That was the rallying cry in the lovely note I received from NTCA associate member Jeff Smith, president and CEO of GVNW, along with my very own punching bag to commemorate the past few weeks. I must admit, I laughed really hard and very loudly when I opened the package and unwrapped the newest “decoration” for my office. Jeff noted that he was pleased that I was still standing and swinging, along with Mike Romano and the rest of our team, for the best outcome for rural broadband providers.
I will say, it has been a wild ride the past month. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Telecom Act of 1996 and using that historical perspective to see where we are now and where the rural communications industry needs to head in the future. With all of the implementation overhang that has existed from the days of the Rural Task Force to the efforts at the turn of the century to lower RoR to the QRA, we are on the cusp of change again with respect to these critical USF programs. The FCC order has been put on circulation as of last Friday night. It will set the USF programs on a new course for the next decade-plus to come. All of our efforts to obtain carefully crafted updates to the USF mechanisms to reorient them for a broadband world, as well as efforts to seek regulatory certainty, have intersected with the FCC’s own definitive interest in not only updating USF, but also carrying through on changes that have been under consideration for many years.
And so the order circulating now would represent the culmination of all of these debates. And most certainly, the devil will be in the details. But we do expect that the order will update the existing USF mechanisms to provide—for the first time—explicit support where a consumer chooses to take broadband and not basic telephone service. The order will also include a voluntary model election option for those carriers that wish to obtain USF in that manner, as well as provisions addressing rate-of-return represcription, competitive overlap policies and limits on certain kinds of expenses. We further expect that the order will effectively increase the amount of USF support available to smaller carriers to help facilitate the model option. While it is very clear that this order will not stand as we would have written it and will have many provisions that were literally the subject of many hours of debate, discourse and disagreement that I had with Chairman Wheeler over the course of the past few weeks, I remain hopeful that what is in the order will be an improvement on where the chairman was heading, as he rushed to circulate something before the Super Bowl, and that there will be some positives along the way, including a stable and even slightly increased budget, support for standalone broadband and the certainty of putting to rest for the next decade or longer some long-running debates and outstanding threats.
But, I am keeping my punching bag near my desk just in case we need to stay in fighting shape!