Rural Broadband Leaders Highlight Need for Sufficient Support and Regulatory Certainty in Making the Business Case for Investment and Ongoing Operations in Senate Hearing

For Immediate Release
Contact: Kelly Wismer, (703) 351-2015, kwismer@ntca.org

Arlington, Va. (October 4, 2018)—Three NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association members testified today about their respective experiences as rural telco operators before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation during the hearing, “Broadband: Opportunities and Challenges in Rural America.” The following are excerpts from written testimony of the three NTCA members who participated in today’s hearing:

Denny Law, general manager (GM) and chief executive officer (CEO) of Golden West Telecommunications (Wall, S.D.):

“Golden West and its customers have been directly affected by the High-Cost USF budget shortfalls. The loss of USF support for network projects already completed has forced us to reduce our future investment plans. Due to USF budget cuts, we have postponed nearly $4 million of network upgrade plans scheduled for 2019 in rural South Dakota. The end result will be fewer customers receiving broadband or upgraded broadband services. And, Golden West is not alone in feeling this pain. Because of these support cuts, I have heard that many other rural network operators are cutting back on future broadband infrastructure investments and cannot deliver affordable standalone broadband to rural consumers. A survey by NTCA earlier this year found that the average member reported over $660,000 in cuts in USF support over the next 12 months, which translated on average to more than an estimated $1.6 million in deferred or declined investment in rural broadband infrastructure.”

The full text of Law’s submitted written testimony is available online.

Mona Thompson, GM of Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Telephone Authority (Eagle Butte, S.D.):

“There seems to be no doubt that the challenges of deploying broadband in rural America are known and acknowledged by policy makers. But, sustaining broadband in such areas is equally important – and often overlooked. Indeed, particularly in Tribal areas where unique 12 challenges can exist in terms of healthcare, education, and economic opportunity, the ongoing availability of robust and affordable broadband will be essential in overcoming such hurdles. We need to build broadband networks and then also enable the most effective use of them.”

The full text of Mona Thompson’s submitted written testimony is available online.

Godfrey Enjady, GM of Mescalero Apache Telecom, Inc. (Mescalero, N.M.):

“Access to capital is a major roadblock to network growth and viability. Because most Tribally-owned carriers cannot collateralize their assets, RUS is our only lender and I appreciate the work that they do. In 2015, my company received the first RUS loan under the 2008 Farm Bill’s Substantially Underserved Trust Area (SUTA) provision. RUS loans and FCC Universal Service Fund (USF) support go hand-in-hand. Reliable and predictable cash flow is required to get any sort of loan, including RUS loans.”

The full text of Enjady’s submitted written testimony is available online.  

Today’s hearing dovetails with recent letters from members of Congress to the FCC asking that they adopt a sufficient and predictable High Cost USF budget by the end of 2018. Members of Congress in Iowa, Minnesota., North Dakota, and South Dakota have recently sent letters. Earlier this spring, 193 members of the House and Senate also sent letters to the FCC urging action on the High Cost USF budget. Additionally, the trade associations that work most closely with this proceeding at the FCC submitted earlier this week a consensus letter suggesting a path for the FCC to move forward.

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NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association is the premier association representing nearly 850 independent, community-based telecommunications companies that are leading innovation in rural and small-town America. NTCA advocates on behalf of its members in the legislative and regulatory arenas, and it provides training and development; publications and industry events; and an array of employee benefit programs. In an era of transformative technological advancements, regulatory challenges and marketplace competition, NTCA members are leading the technological evolution for rural consumers, delivering robust and high-quality services over future-proof networks that make rural communities vibrant places in which to live and do business. Because of their efforts, rural America is fertile ground for innovation in economic development, e-commerce, health care, agriculture and education, and it contributes billions of dollars to the U.S. economy each year. Visit us at www.ntca.org.