Yesterday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced the commission’s plans to “reform and modernize” both the Universal Service Fund and the Intercarrier Compensation System in order to bring them up to date for the digital age. From the Chairman’s speech:
Throughout the process, the overriding imperative has been to maximize benefits for consumers. That includes consumers in unserved rural areas who under this plan would finally get the benefits of broadband and advanced mobile coverage. It includes consumers in areas currently served by USF who would continue to get broadband and voice service. And it includes consumers throughout the country, who would have hundreds of millions more dollars in their pockets over the coming years because this reform will constrain the contribution burden for USF and phase down the ICC subsidies buried in their wireless and long distance phone bills.
Genachowski’s entire speech is worth digging in to. The full FCC plan is scheduled to be released on October 27.
The Internet Innovation Alliance has a special treat this week for our Featured Member… there are two! This week’s featured members are the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and the National Grange. Both IIA members participated in the recent “Broadband WORKS for Rural America” advocacy day in Washington, DC on October 4th, 2011. The event included 150 participants from more than 23 states including members of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and National Grange. While in Washington, participants attended a total of over 90 meetings with their Members of Congress and staff, during which they delivered the message that access to high-speed Internet is a critical component of job creation and economic development, and is necessary to ensuring a prosperous future for citizens living in remote or hard-to-reach communities.
At a press conference to kick-off the event Jess Peterson, executive vice president of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and IIA Ambassador said, “Regardless of location or occupation, the need for reliable, high-speed Internet, both wired and wireless, is something that everyone can agree on. In rural America in particular, there are acres of opportunity for economic growth, but greater access to next-generation technologies is key to capitalizing on these opportunities.” Peterson went on to say, “Right now, Americans need jobs, and we need to make sure that all Americans have the tools to create and sustain them. I believe we successfully delivered that message to policymakers this week.”
Ed Luttrell, President and Master of the National Grange, had this to say about his organizations involvement with the event: “The National Grange has been advocating for affordable access to broadband in rural America for a long time. Never before in our efforts have we seen so many diverse organizations, telecommunications companies, and advocacy groups at the same table with the same commitment and vision. I believe the drumbeat of increased access to broadband in rural America has been heard in our Nation’s capital this week.”
The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association is membership organization dedicated to, and focused on, efforts in Washington, D.C. to further the interests of cattle producers on mandatory country of origin labeling, international trade, market competition, reform of the mandatory beef checkoff, animal health, welfare and identification, private property rights and other issues that affect the United States cattle industry.
The National Grange is a membership organization committed to the development of the potential in families, youth and adults of all ages. Through dynamic programs and experiences that educate, engage and enrich lives, the Grange sees to build stronger communities and states, as well as a stronger nation.
The Internet Innovation Alliance is honored to recognize the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and the National Grange as this week’s featured member and is privileged to be working with them towards expanded broadband access for all Americans.
Recently, our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher appeared on the podcast The Flint Report for an in-depth discussion about rural broadband expansion, job creation, and the proposed merger of AT&T and T-Mobile. You can download Part 1 of the podcast here, and Part 2here.
Earlier this week, we announced former Congressman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) had joined IIA as honorary co-chairman. As former leader of the House telecom subcommittee, Rep. Boucher is widely regarded as an expert on telecom policy.
The Hill’s Sara Jerome sat down with Rep. Boucher to talk about joining IIA and why he is an advocate for the joining of AT&T and T-Mobile. From the article:
“The primary issue is access to broadband. I think the secondary issue is the effect on competition,” he said. “The effect on competition is minimal enough that we should not sacrifice the chance to bring broadband to virtually everyone who wants it.”
Boucher would not predict whether the deal would decrease competition “since new carriers are cropping up all the time.” He noted that most major cities have five or more wireless carriers.
A former rural lawmaker, Boucher emphasized the benefits for the countryside if AT&T were to expand broadband to hard-to-reach areas, as its pledge says it will.
“Broadband is the bridge that links our rural communities to the economic mainstream,” Boucher said.
In The Register, Bill Ray — who lives in a part of Scotland that could charitably be described as remote — writes about his long struggle to bring broadband to his neck of the woods:
Over the last seven years I’ve tried all the alternatives, from satellite broadband to community networks, not to mention searching shops for a “modem” when necessary, and while my not-spot is not as not as it used to be I’m still not reaching the broadband nirvana of 2Mb/sec.
Living in one of the more remote parts of Scotland was always going to present a challenge when it came to internet access, but one doesn’t imagine trying to get some bandwidth will lead to being ostracised by the neighbours, owning enough ladders to scale a decent castle wall, or securing a job at The Register either.
It’s a smart, entertaining read, and does a good job of highlighting many of the issues found in connecting rural parts of the world to broadband. Check it out.
Based on my observations there are a lot of similarities between the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Communications Commission when it comes to matters affecting rural America. The most prominent of these similarities is the overwhelming use of heavy-handed regulation by both the FDA and FCC when a light touch is really what would best serve the industries they regulate. Quite simply, heavy-handed regulation scares potential investors, especially those looking to invest or enter into public-private partnerships in rural Communities.
In the case of FCC regulation of broadband, the Commission is failing to take into account the need for regulatory certainty that investors in rural broadband infrastructure require. With all due respect to the FCC: heavy-handed regulation makes investors and business owners nervous. Conversely, conservative regulation creates the certainty required for investors to commit capital to multiyear broadband infrastructure projects serving communities in rural America. It should come as no surprise that building out broadband infrastructure in rural communities is more time and capital-intensive. This is why a period of regulatory stability would go a long way toward providers deploying broadband connections in rural areas.
Let me be clear: the fact of the matter is that investment and public-private partnerships involving broadband providers are critical to providing ranchers and farmers with the same business opportunities that businesses in urban communities enjoy. This type of investment will not occur if the FCC continues to advocate for measures that would leave ranchers to continue to live as second-class digital citizens.
We all want to be connected in Rural America: to run our businesses, to improve quality of life and reap the benefits of resources such as education and health care online. And the FCC has a critical role when it comes to bringing broadband to cattlemen… and that’s to implement the National Broadband Plan.
Government funds for critical broadband deployment in unserved areas continue to roll out, with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announcing that 126 new projects in 38 states will receive funding. Total price tag for this round: $1.2 billion.
In an editorial for the Tulsa World, Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry (D) has come out strongly against the FCC’s move to regulate the Internet under Title II:
[T]he path the FCC proposes — reclassifying broadband under an arcane section of the Federal Communications Act of 1934 — will make it very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve the lofty goal of universal broadband access across the U.S. If the FCC continues on its present course, there is a real threat to rural communities and populations which are underserved by broadband access today.
The chilling effect such a move will have on private investment and job creation is real and is already being felt from Wall Street to Main Street, as Washington moves ever closer to more onerous regulation of the Internet. We cannot afford to stifle private investment, job creation and economic recovery, especially now.
In the wake of the NTIA’s announcement that the first round of broadband grants would be delayed until December, many rural WiMAX providers are finding themselves in a tough stpot. From Wireless Week:
According to Luisa Handem, managing director of the Rural Mobile Broadband Alliance (RuMBA USA), the delay is affecting several RuMBA-affiliated companies and will both delay and jeopardize some wireless broadband programs initiated by the group’s members.
“Money needs to be on the ground and in the hands of those deploying broadband as soon as possible,” Handem said. “This is not welcome news.”
Broadband access can offer job opportunities, economic development and improved quality of life.
One group helping to lead efforts for universal broadband is the U.S. Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA).
Based in Washington, D.C., IIA is a non-profit organization guided by the principle that any family or business without broadband access is at a disadvantage to those who do have broadband.
“There is going to be a lot of talk about broadband in the next one or two years. An integral part of that discussion is what’s happening in rural America - how do we get up to the speed they need to lead a broadband life?” said Larry Irving, co-chair of the U.S. Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA).
From the vantage point of 2008, the 94 percent of U.S. schools with Internet access use almost exclusively broadband connections, but residentially-based broadband in rural areas continues to lag the availability in metropolitan regions.
Robert LaRose et. al., “Closing the Rural Broadband Gap,” Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media, Michigan State University. November 30, 2008.
The document urges reform of the Universal Service Fund, but is very brief about how. It looks for ways to encourage interagency cooperation, recommending that the FCC create a “comprehensive website that will provide a centralized access portal for information concerning all federal programs addressing broadband.” But beyond that, the report calls for the continuation of the National Economic Council’s interagency working group, and not a lot more. Much of the essay is an encyclopedia of extant consultative agreements between states, localities, Indian tribes, and Federal agencies.
Speaking of the recent Benton Foundation broadband event, App-Rising has an extensive recap of the discussion. The full thing is worth reading, but this observation from Seattle CTO Bill Schrier stands out:
The most powerful statement Bill made was the observation that virtually the entire US is unserved. He says this because if a community were fully served it’d have fiber, yet the vast majority of Americans do not have access to this level of world-class broadband. He then took it a step further, arguing that the reason telework doesn’t work is that we don’t have universal access to high-speed, symmetrical broadband, the kind of connectivity that fiber delivers. Then he drove the point home with a series of rhetorical questions: With the stimulus are we going to build roads? Are we going to build copper? Or are we going to build fiber?
Recently, the Benton Foundation held a discussion on independent broadband. And as Ars Technica reports, rural broadband providers wanted to clear the air about rural areas and demand—namely, that despite reports to the contrary, there is a demand:
“It clearly is a myth,” declared Gary Evans of Hiawatha Broadband Communications, a rural ISP based in Minnesota. “We are not a low priced provider in any community that we serve, but we are a broadband provider.” In one rural region, Evans noted, 60 percent of the population signed up with the company “before we put a shovel in the ground.”
“Now, I would suggest to you that if there’s no demand out there, that simply would not be the case,” he insisted.
Dr. Jay Sanders, President Emeritus of the American Telemedicine Association, discusses the impact of broadband on rural hospitals and their ability to access non-local specialists through telemedicine, as well as using telemedicine to improve the quality of care while reducing rehospitaliztion in all communities.
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