I do find that in the world of Washington DC, some of the most interesting advocacy is done when you have the most diverse group of interests to work with.
That came to mind for me recently when NTCA sent a letter to the FCC, along with ACA (the smaller cable folks) and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association applauding their announcement to create the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund (RDOF), which is the logical and much needed follow-up to the current Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II programs. This effort by the FCC will help to ensure that rural areas in price cap carrier service areas have broadband service that is finally comparable to the increasing performance provided in urban areas and ensure that those communities can also partake in the economic benefits that broadband brings. The FCC announcement had also touted that they were looking to launch the RDOF shortly and hold the auction in 2020. Moving quickly is critical given that portions of rural America are falling further behind and staying on top of this current momentum will be critical. Frankly, it would be a disserve to rural Americans to kick this can any further down the road – and that is exactly the message that our three organizations shared with the FCC.
The FCC and their work on the universal service programs have successfully reduced the number of unserved locations by many millions. Now is truly the time to build on that accomplish and continue forward progress! With the price cap CAF Phase II cost-model program ending in about two years, the Commission really has the chance to seize this great opportunity and move quickly to award the next phase of support. Let’s be honest…the low hanging fruit for some of the larger carriers has already been plucked.
Because of the comprehensive legwork that was done on the CAF Phase II auctions, using 477 data in conjunction with a robust challenge process, the FCC is well situated to more accurately identify where the need remains and target the support to those areas. While there is a lot of noise in DC these days on mapping – it is critical to not let “perfection” be the enemy of the good and to not hold the auctions up further while a more granular process is developed. There is an opportunity to move now and continue to refine the process as more data can be developed. Either way – a challenge process will be necessary to ensure deployment data is accurate under any model.
Rural Americans are waiting – as are those providers who are looking for the opportunity to better serve them. Let’s move on a 2020 auction.