Without affordable, high-quality broadband, persistent poverty counties in the United States have no chance. As a nation currently spending upwards of $100 billion in public funds on broadband, helping these counties is the least we can do. The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) contains a provision that
How the FCC wasted $45 billion on rural “broadband” and what the current FCC/Congress/Administration should have learned.
Before spending an additional $100 billion of public money on rural broadband, avoiding the mistakes of the past decade would be a good place to start.
Lesson #1: The digital divide was not a consequence of rural economics; it has been the policy of the federal government. Broadband is not simply a speed at a point in time. Rather than focus on a short-term goal of attaining any particular speed, public funding is better spent on long-term infrastructure, best defined as assets with a life of at least thirty years.
A proposal to move the decisions about rural investment from Washington policymakers to individual rural Americans. If we change the locus of decisionmaking, the power will shift from lobbying and campaign contributions to service and consumer spending. Such a shift would spur rural investment and would also prevent most rural areas from being locked into one technology or one service provider. The following is an updated legislative or regulatory proposal for a new Section 254.
Recently, the Federal Communications Commission received a letter from members of Congress urging it to use the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund long-form application process to ensure that winning bidders are capable of meeting their obligations. To honor Congressional intent, safeguard the public’s money and deliver necessary services to rural America, I suggest the FCC should:
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) is the most significant rural infrastructure initiative of our time. At over $20 billion, there is sufficient funding in the RDOF to support the most advanced fiber optic services to every rural home in the nation. The program has the potential to become the Rural Electrification Act of our generation, especially if it fosters the same spirit of local initiative, local ownership and local control.
[Commentary] Universal Service funding that is supposed to spur broadband development in rural America is padding the bottom line for incumbents who provide lousy service. To change the system overnight at no extra cost, let the subsidy follow consumer choice instead.
[Jonathan Chambers is a partner at Conexon, LLC,]
[Commentary] Here’s a five-step system to create portable consumer subsidies for broadband:
1) Use the Federal Communications Commission’s data to identify all areas unserved by broadband. Census blocks would be considered unserved if they lack broadband as defined by the FCC. Broadband is defined today as an evolving standard consisting of four attributes: speed (currently 25/3 Mbps), capacity (150 GB per month of data or the median household usage), latency (100 milliseconds) and price (median national price).
2) Use the FCC’s Connect America cost model to determine the appropriate level of public funding for each location in each census block. The FCC cost model was developed over many years with the cooperation of the nation’s telephone companies to calculate the cost of constructing, maintaining and operating fiber-to-the-premise networks. The FCC has used this model to calculate a level of subsidy necessary to build and provide service to every location in every census block throughout the country.
3) Make available such support to all internet service providers (ISPs) that are certified in states as eligible telecommunications carriers (ETC). The count of each ETC’s subscribers should only include broadband service and should be limited to one subsidy per location, similar to the limitation of the Lifeline program of one subsidy per household.
4) Every six months, when ISPs submit data to the FCC indicating geographic area, speed, technology and numbers of customers, each eligible telecommunications carrier that wishes to participate in the Connect America Fund would submit their data to the Universal Service Administrative Company. The fund administrator would compensate each carrier based upon the number of locations served with broadband and the subsidy per location per census block. The FCC would also continually update its information on where services were provided without the use of a subsidy in order to eliminate those areas from further public funding.
5) Any ISP could win back a customer it loses, and thereby win back the subsidy amount. This will encourage ISPs to continue to improve service offerings even in rural areas, and allow public funds to follow ongoing consumer decisions, rather than pre-set government decisions. Whether the service chosen is fiber-based, copper-based, wireless (fixed or mobile), satellite, drone or balloon, the FCC would get out of the business of determining the type of technology and attempting to compare the relative weights of technologies.
[Chambers is a partner at Conexon, LLC, a company dedicated to working with electric cooperatives interested in serving their members with broadband]
In January 2014, the Federal Communications Commission initiated an experiment to inform our policies to build next generation networks in rural America. We invited proposals to tell the FCC whether there is interest in constructing high bandwidth networks in high cost areas, and to tell us how it could be done. We issued an invitation, and the response has been astounding. To date, we have received nearly 1,000 expressions of interest from all parts of the country and more are being filed every day.
Proposals from rural telephone companies, from rural electric co-ops, from cable and wireless service providers, from schools and libraries, from research and education networks, from communities. The proposals are varied, geographically and technologically diverse, yet all have a common theme. They are expressions of a desire to deliver better, more robust Internet access service, faster speeds to communities in rural areas.
They are expressions by people who understand that high bandwidth services are becoming increasingly important to the future of economic development, education, health care, government services, entertainment, information, communication and creativity. And many, such as those from telephone and electric co-ops and anchor institutions, are expressions from organizations rooted in local communities.
[Chambers is FCC's Chief, Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis]