Five Steps to Advance Rural Broadband

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On March 12, 2019, I was honored to appear before the Senate Communications Subcommittee to testify on “The Impact of Broadband Investments in Rural America.” I provided my personal views, bringing the perspective of a former government official with 22 years of experience at the Federal Communications Commission and National Telecommunications and Information Administration, with the last decade focused on the FCC’s Connect America Fund. My five-minute opening statement follows:

I view the recent Phase II auction as a success. There may be more work to be done on the margins but big picture – we now have verification of performance and an ability to track progress in closing the digital divide. I highlight five points for future action:

  1. It may make sense to discard the notion of a separate Remote Areas Fund and roll the areas that didn’t get bids in the Phase II auction into the FCC’s upcoming auction for the geographic areas now receiving Phase II support, which I’ll refer to as the Phase III auction.
  2. The FCC needs to recalibrate its vision for what is the minimum requirement in any future auction. 10/1 Mbps is yesterday’s technology. Raising the minimum performance standard logically would expand the geographic areas eligible for bidding in the Phase III auction. 
  3. Efforts to develop a better understanding of fixed broadband service availability should not prevent the FCC from moving to the Phase III auction in a timely manner.
  4. The federal government needs to share information in near real-time – both across federal agencies, and with state and local officials engaged in similar efforts – regarding the specific geographic areas where parties have applied for funding, or where funding has been authorized, even if construction has not yet occurred.
  5. The current USF contributions system needs an overhaul. Parsing revenues into assessable and non-assessable buckets is like counting how many angels are dancing on the head of a pin. With modes of communications changing and business models evolving, it’s time to have a thoughtful conversation about new ways to ensure that the universal service fund remains on a solid footing.

[Carol Mattey is the former Deputy Bureau Chief of the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau (2010–2017) and Senior Advisor on the National Broadband Plan (2009–2010)]

Five Steps to Advance Rural Broadband