NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association and our members have been leading the charge over the past several years in seeking changes to the Universal Service Fund (USF) programs that will enable better delivery of voice and broadband to consumers in rural America.
In 2012 and 2014, we filed petitions to address the punitive “rate floor” policy adopted by the FCC that has led to ever-escalating increases in local voice rates for many rural consumers, and we have made more visits to the FCC since then on this issue than any other party. In 2014 and 2015, our membership asked hundreds of their members of Congress to write to the FCC to raise concerns about the fact that rural consumers cannot obtain affordable standalone broadband. In 2016, we petitioned the commission to address the insufficiency of its USF budget, which is undermining the effectiveness of the reforms the FCC adopted, and we have made the sufficiency of the USF a central theme in countless meetings on Capitol Hill and at the FCC since then.
As NTCA’s Legislative & Policy Conference approaches in just about 10 days, it will be the perfect opportunity to ensure that our rural provider’s voices are heard on these issues. In the wake of reforms that were aimed at solving the standalone broadband problem but unfortunately did not, and in the face of impending local voice rate increases that only harm consumers, our industry is at a critical juncture. It’s time to let Congress know that the USF reforms adopted last year, while promising in some respects, unfortunately did not work as intended and that insufficient budgets are depriving tens of thousands of rural Americans access to better broadband and denying millions more access to affordable standalone broadband. It’s time to let Congress know that consumers are tired of seeing their local voice rates creep upward year after year by federal mandate.
I’m really excited about the number of NTCA members who will be coming to Washington to tell their story on March 27 and 28, where we will also be joined by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who just this week articulated his support of leveraging existing mechanisms such as the USF to facilitate the business case for rural broadband deployment. We are asking our members to come equipped with data that underscores how these USF mechanisms are affecting their customers as well as show how the rate floor has increased for their customers in rural markets where access to those in a local calling scope is small and limited. Congresswoman Blackburn from Tennessee, and Chairman of the House Telecommunications subcommittee, is also scheduled to address our membership and it will be a timely opportunity to hear what her priorities are for the year ahead.
Timing is everything and the timing is perfect for NTCA members to tell share with policymakers all that they are doing to ensure that there is not a rural/urban divide when it comes to affordable voice and broadband access.