For too long, NTCA members have heard the calls from consumers in neighboring rural areas desperate for broadband, and they have tried to respond wherever they can while also continuing to invest and deliver high-quality services in their own deeply rural communities. We all know the stories of the larger company service territory in a rural area being the last they bring service to and consumers getting increasingly frustrated.
Today’s vote to establish the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund offers great promise in helping to answer those kinds of calls and deliver the best possible voice and broadband services in unserved areas. NTCA members are eager to participate in this effort and we are anxious for our members to be part of the digital divide solution in rural America. We thank Chairman Pai for moving this initiative forward, and we look forward to engaging with the FCC as it finalizes the auction procedures, vets qualified bidders, and conducts the auction.
At the same time, even in the course of conducting auctions to distribute funds in unserved areas, it is important not to lose sight of those areas that are well-served today only by the grace of universal service support. These are market failure areas, where reasonably comparable consumer rates will not cover the costs of repaying loans taken out to build networks and the costs of maintaining networks once built. NTCA therefore welcomes a renewed conversation now not only on how we get broadband where it is not, but also how we keep broadband where it already is – sustaining high-quality voice and broadband services at affordable rates for the long-term benefit of rural consumers and communities.
Watching the deliberations at the FCC today were interesting….from NTCA member companies cited as examples of changing the lives of those in their communities to the ability to do e-commerce in rural America (and sell Bison booties!) to the clearing bid provision for “better, faster, cheaper broadband for more Americans” that NTCA pushed for to ensure that builds aren’t being driven down to the lowest common denominator and speed, to hearing broadband deployment called a “moral imperative”.
We’re ready for next steps, clarifications and continued education on how networks are not “one and done” and why actually sustaining networks built in rural America is a key part of the service challenge ahead.