June 30, 2010 - NTCA Member Speaks Up at Rural Broadband Forum

Photo:  William RohdeBill Rohde, Executive Vice President & General Manager of Mark Twain Rural Telephone Company (Hurdland, Mo.) and member of the NTCA Board of Directors, attended a Rural Broadband Forum in Missouri on Friday June 25.  The event was hosted by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who were joined by local representatives including a schools superintendent, district fire chief and hospital CEO, among others.

The panelists spoke about the need for broadband in rural areas and then opened up the forum to the audience, where Rohde was able to pose two questions.  He asked Chairman Genachowski to address the plan’s proposal to fund networks capable of providing 100 Megabits (Meg) service in urban areas but just 4 Meg in rural areas. He noted that such a provision will create a digital divide and will not create the bandwidth needed in rural areas to do the health care applications, public safety, and economic development. 

Chairman Genachowski thanked Rohde for the chance to address the issue and commended him for what Mark Twain Rural Telephone is doing in its service area.  Genachowski explained that the plan proposes goals like 100 Meg for 100 million households, but that they “are not recommended as funded plans, because it would cost an incredible about of money to get there and the rest of the plan is designed to think about how we can create incentives for private industry to get us there.  He said that Rohde raised a very important issue in pointing out that broadband comes in a variety of speeds, noting “how do we do this in a way so that there isn’t a natural digital divide?  There’s no way the government will fund more speeds in urban areas than rural areas,” Genachowski said. 

To hear Genachowski’s complete response and explanation of the 4 Meg goal, listen to the audio recording.   

Sen. McCaskill added that she expects rural areas, which are challenged by the lack of an economic foundation that incents private investment, can count on more government assistance than the urban areas to get the country to higher broadband levels.

Access the audio recording to hear McCaskill’s complete response to Rohde’s concern.

Rohde followed up his first question by citing concerns about telcos’ continued ability to keep up with loans or borrow additional funds, given the broadband plan’s uncertainty regarding future USF support.  “If the plan is implemented the way it’s proposed, with intercarrier compensation going away, USF being phased out, that a lot of us are going to be insolvent,” Rohde said.  “What assurance do we have that there’s going to be something there to maintain [our] networks?”

McCaskill responded that she supports reforming USF without any disruption to those companies that have relied on that revenue stream.  She said as policy-makers work on reform, “I think you can rest assured that no one I know of is rushing to change USF until we are confident that whatever changes we make are ones that are going to enhance rural broadband deployment without disruption to the businesses that have been relying on that stream of revenue for their business models and—most importantly—for collateral on loans.”

An AP story about the forum may be accessed online.  Additionally, the Columbia Missourian newspaper's online forum, “Today’s Question,” asks  “Should the government fund broadband service for rural areas?”  View the article and leave a comment citing your opinion about the need for funding to help deliver rural consumers access to affordable, high-speed broadband.

The Rural Broadband Forum in Missouri was the result of an invitation from Sen. McCaskill to FCC Chairman Genachowski to visit Missouri and hear first hand from her constituents what broadband means to the state.  During the upcoming Independence Day and August congressional recesses, many members of Congress will hold town hall meetings in their home states.  NTCA members are encouraged to attend these meetings and take advantage of the opportunity to raise concerns with your representatives about the broadband plan and what it means for rural consumers.

Listen to the audio recording of Bill Rohde's Q&A with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Sen. Claire McCaskill.