RTIME 2024

Congress is “in disarray right now,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association, in an address at NTCA’s annual RTIME conference in Tampa today.

Bloomfield urged NTCA’s rural telecom provider members attending the conference to remind their elected officials that “It’s not about who’s winning and who’s losing; it’s about getting things done.”

Bloomfield pointed to several open issues facing Congress that will impact rural providers and their communities. Among these were USF contribution reform, streamlining permitting challenges, the Farm Bill, the ReConnect program, the tax consequences of broadband programs, and the Affordable Connectivity Program, which will end soon if new funding is not available for it.

Elected officials “need to be reminded that they were sent to Washington to get the job done for folks back home,” Bloomfield said.

Bloomfield thanked NTCA members for raising $360,000 for the association’s political action committee. She also entertained the audience by posing questions to a Magic 8 Ball and reading the purported responses.

“Will this be the year for BEAD?” she asked in reference to the $42.5 billion rural broadband funding program.

The 8 Ball’s answer, she said, was “As I see it, yes.”

Video Interview with Commerce Secretary

Bloomfield shared a video of an interview that she did with Gina Raimondo, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, about the BEAD program with the RTIME audience. Commerce is ultimately responsible for the BEAD program, which is being administered by NTIA, a division of Commerce.

When Bloomfield voiced NTCA members’ concerns that the BEAD application process was too daunting, Raimondo encouraged those members to apply.

“We want you to apply,” she told them. “We will work with you and hold your hand.”

She noted that the goal of the program is to get everyone connected to broadband and that “the big guys aren’t necessarily interested” in deploying service in some rural areas.

Raimondo left the door open that Commerce might consider revising certain BEAD requirements if NTCA members were to point to certain requirements that they find to be overly burdensome.

Bloomfield also noted that NTCA is beginning work on its strategic plan.

When she asked the Magic 8 Ball what that plan will look like, she said the answer was “Ask again later.”

She urged members to provide input that will help shape the plan.

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