About a month ago, Congressman James Clyburn, Majority Whip in the United States House of Representatives and proud South Carolinian, initiated a new Congressional task force focused on rural broadband. In my mind, you can never have enough task forces, committees or ad hoc groups in policy circles pondering this important topic.
As soon as the task force was announced by Representative Clyburn, we requested the opportunity to meet with him to share our perspective and ideas on the tools, funding and challenges that need to be pondered when looking for a solution to serve the unserved and underserved in our country. To ensure we could pass the test that “all politics are local”, we were delighted that Brad Erwin, of Farmers Telephone Cooperative and Jason Dandridge and Valerie Ancrum from PRTC also joined in the discussion to share their story of broadband deployment in rural South Carolina along with our own Tammie Logan and myself.
Capitol Hill was hopping as we hit prime season here for groups to come to town and interns to take over the Capitol grounds but we found some shade before cooling our heels in the Capitol building itself. No matter that I have been doing policy work for decades – and worked on Capitol Hill myself – the United States Capitol still fills me with awe and respect for the history and the institution.
The conversation with the House Majority Whip was robust and wide ranging. From the purpose of the broadband task force to the state of deployment in South Carolina. From the role that local, community based providers play vs those who seek profits in more urban markets, to the power and efficiency of fiber as opposed to the subpar service of satellite to the fact that even a fixed wireless solution requires a fiber backbone. We also were able to touch on why electric coops should at least have constructive conversations with their fellow local providers to see if partnerships are possible and how spectrum resources need to be available in addition to USF support. Far ranging and insightful and we’re anxious to continue to provide the experience that NTCA members bring to their decades of experience serving their communities along with the reality that broadband deployment is not easy nor is it cheap. As Farmers was noting their current fiber build and their anticipation of getting to nearly 80 percent served with that technology in the next few years, the point was made that the last 20 percent will cost just as much to reach as the first 80 percent due to incredibly low density, low demand and the challenges that very rural and remote areas bring to those who are working hard to serve them.
A good visit and a constructive day and I am always struck by the power of the “stories” from back home. I remain hopeful that these congressional initiatives will continue to move the discussion of broadband deployment along further.