#RuralisCool, Volume 1, Issue 38/September 12, 2019

Bloomfield Testifies at House Hearing on Broadband Mapping

NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield testified September 11 at the hearing, “Legislating to Connect America: Improving the Nation's Broadband Maps" conducted by the Telecommunications & Technology Subcommittee of the House Energy & Commerce Committee. 

Bloomfield noted that the FCC already is taking steps to address some of the problems with current map data, which considers an entire census block to be served even if only one location in the block can get broadband. She praised the steps that the commission is taking to address this, including changing how broadband availability information is collected from service providers and exploring the creation of a mapping fabric that would provide consistent information about individual addresses throughout the U.S.

In written testimony, she also noted that “granularity and accuracy are not the same thing” and made several other recommendations, including: 

  • The development of specific technical standards to which all providers would have to comply in reporting areas to which they could deploy service within a certain time frame; 
  • Using crowdsourcing to provide a “sanity check” on provider-reported data;
  • Requiring the FCC to use a “robust” challenge procedure any time it prepares to make significant funding or other policy decisions based on the maps;
  • Requiring service providers to report latency and usage allowances as well as speeds offered

During the three-hour hearing that included many questions, Bloomfield also praised Congress for legislative efforts to address the broadband mapping problem, including the Broadband DATA Act introduced by Reps.Dave Loebsack (D–Iowa) and Bob Latta (R–Ohio) that was the focus of the hearing. She said NTCA was pleased that the bill directs the FCC to include a request for resources to promote more granular mapping and technical assistance for smaller operators in its budget submission.

Agriculture Secretary Perdue to Speak at NTCA Fall Conference

Sonny Perdue, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), will be a special guest speaker at the NTCA 2019 Fall Conference to be held in Denver, September 22-25. Perdue will offer an industry update at the general session on Monday, September 23.

Perdue has been Secretary of Agriculture since 2017 and is a committed champion of rural broadband. He has prioritized rural broadband expansion and advocated for it as essential to building thriving and sustainable rural communities for the future by, among other things, supporting USDA’s ReConnect program.

Other key speakers will include NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield; Rohit Bhargava, innovation and marketing expert and founder of Non-Obvious Co. and David Pogue, New York Times columnist and CBS tech contributor. 

The NTCA Fall Conference also will include separate session tracks for telcos and directors, along with various committee meetings and round tables on a variety of topics. 

House DATA Act Aims to Address Broadband Map Problems

Reps. Dave Loebsack (D–Iowa) and Bob Latta (R–Ohio) introduced legislation September 6 aimed at improving the accuracy of the FCC’s broadband availability maps. The legislation, to be known as the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act, would require the FCC to collect granular service availability from broadband providers and is cosponsored by Reps. Billy Long (R–Mo.) and Donald McEachin (D–Va.).

The bill also would require strong parameters for service availability data from mobile providers and would establish a challenge process for FCC map data. Similar legislation was introduced previously in the Senate.

In a statement, NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield said the DATA Act would provide “meaningful reforms” to current mapping systems.

Report: Rural Providers Contributed Jobs, Economic Output

Small, rural communications providers contributed more than 77,000 jobs and supported more than $10 billion in economic activities in 2017, according to a new report from the Foundation for Rural Service, in partnership with Purdue University and the Center for Regional Development. The positive economic impacts of broadband impact 29 different industries, researchers said.

The report, titled “Job Creation from Rural Broadband Companies,” was based on data from NTCA members.  

“Although rural telecommunications providers are typically small, they make a significant economic impact in their communities,” said report authors Roberto Gallardo and Indraneel Kumar in an announcement about the report. 

NTCA members are encouraged to download the report and share it with community members and legislators. It is available on the FRS website.

NTCA Seeks Changes to FCC Access Arbitrage Draft Order to Protect Innocent Carriers 

NTCA Senior Vice President of Industry Affairs and Business Development Mike Romano; Denny Law of Golden West Telecommunications; Ryan Boone of Premier Communications; Trey Judy of Hargray Communications and Rebekah Goodheart of Jenner & Block LLP met with representatives of the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau and Office of Economics and Analysis on September 9 to discuss the FCC proceeding to eliminate alleged access arbitrage. 

NTCA supports the commission’s efforts to eliminate inefficient arbitrage that could undermine the integrity of the intercarrier compensation system but has repeatedly highlighted that any effort should take care to prevent unintended harms to local exchange carriers. NTCA therefore proposed specific steps that the commission can take to eliminate access arbitrage while also avoiding unintentional harms to carriers.

During the September 9 meeting, NTCA and the other rural local exchange carrier (RLEC) representatives expressed concern about a proposal that would cause RLECs to be considered access stimulators if they have a 6:1 ratio of terminating-to-originating interstate traffic even if they are not actually engaged in access stimulation practices.

The RLEC representatives requested four modifications to the FCC draft order:

  • Adopting a rebuttable presumption to enable carriers to show they are not access stimulators despite the relaxed definition of that term;
  • Making clear that a LEC deemed to be an access stimulator is only financially responsible for the tandem switching and transport that it chooses for purposes of a subtending end office;
  • Using a different access stimulation definition for RLECs, given the structural disincentives for RLECs to engage in access stimulation; and
  • Periodically reviewing any changes to the definition of access stimulation to ensure it keeps pace with marketplace changes.

Notes in the News:

The FCC today announced over $112.2 million in funding through the fifth wave of support from last year’s Connect America Fund Phase II auction. The funding will be provided to telecom providers over the next decade to expand broadband to nearly 48,000 unserved rural homes and businesses in nine states.

Michael Janson will serve as the director of the FCC Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force and acting assistant chief of the commission’s Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA). Chelsea Fallon, who previously headed the task force, will lead the implementation of the new Digital Opportunity Data Collection within the Data Division of OEA. Steve Rosenberg will serve as acting chief data and analytics officer and acting chief of OEA’s data division. 

The FCC will consider a public notice seeking comment on procedures for Auction 105 of priority access licenses in the 3550-3650 MHz band at the September open meeting scheduled for September 26.

The House Subcommittee on Intelligence & Emerging Threats & Capabilities and the Oversight & Reform Committee held a joint hearing September 10 on “Securing the Nation’s Internet Architecture.” A recording of the hearing is available on the committee’s website.

Members of the FCC’s Consumer Affairs and Outreach Division will visit Nebraska and Kansas September 17-21 in the fifth of a series of trips designed to build partnerships with local consumer groups and to hear directly from local communities. Topics to be discussed include robocalls, spoofing, slamming, cramming and others.