Big Day For Moving Rural Telecommunications Forward

Big Day For Moving Rural Telecommunications Forward

Thankfully today is Friday, April 12th and not April 1st.  There are so many good things happening that I simply want to ensure that there are no April Fool’s shenanigans going on!

We started the day with a call initiated by the White House hosting FCC Chairman Pai who shared that later in the day he would be heading to the White House for a briefing on 5G as well as a new rural broadband funding initiative being rolled out. The Chairman shared that given the vote to take place in just a little bit later that morning that would allow the rollout of rather significant mmW spectrum bands to enable 5G deployments and he was coupling that with a new “Rural Digital Opportunity Fund” that will be positioned as offering $20.4 billion over 10 years to enable deployment of “fiber lines” specifically in “unserved rural areas both to enable 5Gbackhaul and to connect 4 million unserved homes.  The funding seems to come primarily from the repackaging of some existing programs post CAF activity and then some.

Today’s announcement of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund represents a potentially significant leap forward in our nation’s efforts to overcome the digital divide. First and foremost, NTCA is delighted to see recognition from policymakers at the very highest levels of the inextricably integrated nature of communications networks—put another way, that wireless needs wires and 5G needs fiber.

Second, this recognition comes backed by substantial resources that are critical to making the business case for investment in and ongoing operation of future-proof networks in rural areas. Third, we are pleased that the FCC will be taking a lead role in this effort. Under the leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai, the agency has made terrific strides in directing funds to where they are needed most and seeking to avoid the prospect of multiple governmental programs funding duplicative network construction.

NTCA members have been building a better future for their rural communities for decades, and as hometown providers, their commitment to connecting rural America is second to none. As the rules of this program are further developed, our members look forward to working with policymakers on these initiatives and to furthering their critical role in delivering on the promise of sustainable and affordable broadband for rural America. Frankly, I have been pondering the challenges of the rural/rural digital divide for awhile and maybe this additional support will be just what is needed to ensure that NTCA member companies – just like they were the first to bring broadband to rural America – will again be a key part of the solution to serve those areas that have been left behind!

As if that weren’t enough, the FCC voted to eliminate the onerous rate floor rules that would have imposed a significant burden on rural consumers and I sincerely appreciated all 5 of the FCC commissioners recognizing the harm this additional expense would have caused rural Americans.  Kudos to members of Congress like Senators Thune, Moran, Bozeman, Cotton, Klobuchar and many others who continued to express their concerns with this policy.

And what better way to end the day than trot over to USDA to open up some critical discussions with their CIO on the robust networks that rural providers have built and how they may play a role in future USDA network needs.

Not even a little rain and some faded cherry blossoms could dampen my spirits on a day like today.

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