There is a big fight brewing in Washington – one whose outcome will have far reaching implications for rural broadband carriers. The issue is the multi-billion dollar universal service fund, and the fight revolves around its reform. As a result, many of the leading trade associations representing the interests of rural telephone companies have banded together for a ‘unified rural position.’
The unified movement includes the National Exchange Carrier Association (NECA), the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA), the Organization for the Promotion of Small Telephone Companies (OPASTCO), and the Western Telecommunications Alliance (WTA). That’s a mouthful. These groups have agreed to respond to the upcoming National Broadband Plan’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and Notice of Inquiry (NOI) seeking comment on the FCC’s proposals regarding Cost Modeling and Universal Service Reform.
In a letter to its joint members the coalition outlined several key positions they will advocate for:
- Network design based on funding only 4 Meg in rural areas is shortsighted and creates a digital divide compared to 100 Meg in urban areas.
- RLECs have made significant investments in multi‐use, broadband capable networks which serve 37% of the national geography. Their continued ability to provide comparable telecommunications services to rural Americans is vital to our nation’s economic development, national security and public health and safety.
- These investments have been made possible due to a time‐tested cost‐recovery structure consisting of rate‐of‐return regulation, NECA pooling, intercarrier compensation and USF support.
- The FCC should now be looking to recreate this success story with a broadband focus and not undermine or ignore what has worked to achieve affordable and comparable services for rural consumers as required by the Communications Act.
There’s a lot at stake. Expect some considerable and heated debate, with some eventual ‘horse trading’ before this contentious issue gets resolved. Comments on the NPRM/NOI are due on July 12, with replies due on August 11.