Giving credit where credit is due, my thanks to Bob Debroux with TDS for coining what might be one of my new favorite phrases as we enter what is hopefully a new era of placing a public policy priority on fiber and future-proofed networks as the government looks for different ways to close the digital (or rural/rural) divide.
Since last spring NTCA has advocated for opportunities for our members to participate in the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), and we were one of the biggest and earliest supporters of a program that will promote sustainable networks capable of delivering the best possible broadband access for many years to come. After months of advocacy, including bipartisan letters signed by dozens of members of Congress initiated during the TEPS – our NTCA policy summit in November, we could not be more pleased to share with you that the FCC announced yesterday it will consider rules to fund sustainable and forward-looking networks through an auction construct that achieves much of what we had hoped for.
Specifically, in response to the call of Congress “to fund sustainable and forward-looking networks that will stand the test of time,” the commission will consider a proposal to adopt an auction construct where, at the clearing round, bidding will stop instead of continuing go lower (as it did in Connect America Fund Phase 2) and the bidder promising the highest speed will receive support at the clearing round bid amount.
NTCA supported this very approach in concept through our members’ outreach this fall and more than a dozen subsequent meetings with agency staff in recent weeks, where we noted that services delivered in high-cost rural areas using RDOF funds should be reasonably comparable to those in urban areas both now and over at least the term of support distribution, if not longer. Just as “dig once” policies are so popular, we believe it is far more efficient to have policies that encourage providers to “build once”—deploying rural networks that are scalable and will offer services at speeds that are still relevant to customers another decade from now.
In another case of giving credit where credit is due, when FCC Chairman Pai released his annual missive on his priorities for the year ahead, he noted “We also want to prioritize the deployment of broadband networks that will meet the needs of tomorrow as well as today. Congress has called on the Commission to fund sustainable and forward-looking networks that will stand the test of time. I agree.” Chairman Pai has prioritized closing the divide since the start of his tenure and he continues to walk his talk and I’m impressed – that’s not always easy to do here in Washington D.C.
This provision should go a long way toward fulfilling the mission of universal service both now and well into the future, to the benefit of millions of rural Americans who have waited far too long for broadband comparable to what is available in urban areas. I hear regularly from rural Americans NOT served by NTCA member companies and I wish I could find a solution for all of them. Just as with some of the ReConnect awards we are seeing, as this program is finalized and implemented, we look forward to further NTCA member companies critical role in delivering on the promise of sustainable and affordable broadband for rural America.