It’s amazing how quickly time can fly. Super Bowl 50 marked the 32nd anniversary of me meeting my husband, Don, at a Washington, D.C., Super Bowl party, which might have been the last time the Redskins actually made it to the Super Bowl. It was “teasing at first sight,” as I ridiculed him for wearing a Joe Theismann jersey. Little did I know that this guy from New Jersey was a Giants fan wearing the jersey to be tongue in cheek. A week later with his “accidental” stop into the DuPont Circle joint where I was doing some bartending to supplement my low Capitol Hill wages, the rest was history!
Just like historically, 20 years ago today, President Clinton signed into law the Telecommunications Act of 1996. I was so excited to be invited to the bill signing in the Library of Congress, but it was in the middle of NTCA’s annual meeting and I couldn’t make it back in time for the ceremony. I’ve always been a little sad about missing something so historic that had occupied a number of years of my professional life—from the MFJ days in the 80s through the actual years of negotiations on this historic measure in the 90s. My children actually become immune to the phone calls that would come in at night during bedtime and on the weekends during story time from Hill staffers on the “Farm Team” (prewidely accepted cellphone days), as we continued to barter and negotiate for the best provisions that we could on behalf of then-rural telephone companies. The Farm Team, led by staffers for Sens. Dorgan, Exon, Rockefeller and others, helped us navigate with the subcommittee leadership of Sen. Pressler from South Dakota (how little some things change, with Sen. John Thune from South Dakota now in the top seat for the full Commerce Committee); Sen. Stevens from Alaska, a driving force and the chairman of the full committee; and Sen. McCain from Arizona to ensure that rural carriers had a path forward in this historic legislation that set the path for competition and the codification of universal service. Tom Wacker and I actually sat in the Senate chamber to watch the vote, and I can remember thinking that our work had actually just begun.
So fast forward to today, the 20th anniversary of that landmark legislation, and how fitting, and likely not coincidental, that between the Super Bowl (end of the football season) and the Telecom Act of 1996 celebration that the FCC Chairman would move to circulate an order shortly proposing reforms to the USF mechanisms that provide the critical support your companies need to invest and operate in rural America. Our team had been working closely with the FCC staff and seemed to be making some very constructive progress until it appeared that the chairman had his own target date in mind for the completion of this order and his own proposals on how this would get done. My commendation to our amazing committee and board leadership, and our own team—led by Mike Romano—for being on call over the last few weekends and daily for multiple calls as we went over to the FCC on a daily basis for continued negotiations. The issues in play are far too critical to not fight hard for. While some significant items were hammered out, we have a lot of work ahead of us. We haven’t seen the order and further notice yet, and there are always things that will need to be worked out. As it is often said, the devil is in the details.
So I encourage NTCA’s membership to stay engaged and vigilant as we work to ensure that the FCC’s action will help to provide a new USF platform that is broadband focused and provide more regulatory certainty to an industry that has had a hard time seeing a clear path forward for a number of years.