The 114th Congress was sworn in this week, and this week’s edition of Politico kicked off in fine fashion with a profile of the new Congress. Our fabulous communications team was on the ball and quickly grabbed the back cover of the magazine to publish our message “Rural Broadband: Solutions Oriented, Community Based.” It highlights how community-based telecommunications providers have been moving rural America forward for several decades with advanced networks that today provide access to high-speed Internet, video and voice services that keep homes and businesses connected to the most modern telecommunications infrastructure available. Finding solutions to remote and rural communities’ technology needs is what America’s rural broadband providers are all about. It’s what inspires NTCA members to foster innovations in education, health care, public safety, civic engagement and commerce for the benefit of our nation as a whole. And no one does it better because no one is more committed than NTCA member companies!
That particular message could not have been more timely given the FCC Chairman’s remarks this week at CES. Just weeks after the FCC raised the broadband speed for the Connect America Fund (CAF) program for the price cap carriers, the Chairman has now thrown out a new goal of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 upstream—more than double the CAF target that was just set! The Chairman also noted in his talk that 53% of rural Americans and 17% of all Americans lack access to 25/3 Mbps speeds. He continued to note that, where the speeds are available, 28% of rural Americans subscribed to that data rate or higher. Impressive, but significant enough to support the increased expense? It’s not surprising that the rural broadband providers are feeling some whiplash with these statements from the FCC at the same time the high-cost USF is capped and carriers are already strapped with how to spread $2 plus billion in support across 1,100 carriers and hundreds of thousands of miles of high-cost territory. I can remember when the “uneducated” liked to make snide comments about rural carriers “gold plating” networks when they moved to fiber for upgrades. If not for these visionary providers, rural America would be even further behind in this seemingly never-ending Internet speed and capacity race. And yet, policymakers continue to talk about budgets and constraints and models from one side of the podium, and then push for higher and higher speeds without the corresponding support. A Washington, D.C., conundrum for sure.