NTCA Members Win USDA ReConnect Rural Broadband Funding
Several more NTCA members were awarded USDA ReConnect broadband funding since the last issue of #RuralIsCool was published on Nov. 21:
- All West Communications Inc. of Wyoming and Utah received a $4.79 million grant to deploy or upgrade high-speed broadband in the county of Sweetwater, Wyoming.
- Beehive Telephone Company (Lake Point, Utah) will receive $2.4 million for a fiber-to-the-premises network in Garfield, Wayne and Box Elder counties.
- Cordova Telecom will receive $18.88 million for high-speed broadband infrastructure in Yakuta, Alaska.
- Emery Telecommunications & Video, Inc., based in Orangeville, Utah, is receiving $2.7 million to develop an FTTP network in San Juan County in Utah and Dolores County, Colorado.
- Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative, Inc. will use a $2 million loan for a FTTH network in Jackson and DeKalb counties in Alabama.
- National Telephone of Alabama, Inc. (doing business as TEC) will use $2.7 million for a FTTP network in Colbert County. The award comes in the form of a 50% grant/50% loan.
- Oregon Telephone Corporation will use a $6 million ReConnect grant for high-speed broadband in rural Wheeler and Grant counties.
- Wabash Telephone Cooperative, Inc. will use a $12.8 million 50 percent loan-grant combination to deploy 298 miles of fiber-optic cable in unserved areas of Jefferson and Wayne counties in Illinois.
USDA previously announced awards for NTCA member companies Premier Communications (Sioux Center, Iowa), GRM Networks (Princeton, Mo.), Star Communications (Clinton, N.C.), and Oklahoma Western Telephone Company (Clayton, Okla.).
The ReConnect program was established by Congress in March 2018 with a budget of $600 million, to be awarded in the form of grants, loans and grant/loan combinations. Deployments target unserved or underserved rural areas.
FCC Chairman Pai Proposes FCC 5G Fund for Rural Areas
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced on Wednesday a proposal to create a 5G Fund that would use a reverse auction to award $9 billion over 10 years to cover some of the costs of deploying 5G to rural areas with sparse populations and/or rugged terrain. One billion dollars of the funding would go toward deployments facilitating precision agriculture. The 5G Fund would replace the planned Mobility Fund Phase II, which would have provided federal support for 4G LTE service in unserved areas.
Wireless carriers were required to submit 4G LTE coverage data to the commission to help in determining areas eligible for Mobility Fund Phase II support. But a FCC staff report found that the 4G LTE coverage data submitted by providers is not sufficiently reliable for moving forward with Mobility Fund Phase II. The report’s conclusions were based on drive tests conducted by commission staff, who drove nearly 10,000 miles.
In a statement, NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield said NTCA is in the process of examining the staff report about the 4G LTE coverage data. “NTCA members are eager to continue leading the charge in deployment and delivery of advanced services in rural areas, and we hope that the availability of better coverage data and this shift in program objectives will ultimately promote increased investment in, and help sustain, robust rural wireless networks,” said Bloomfield.
NTCA Urges FCC to Make Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Future Proof
NTCA Senior Vice President of Industry Affairs and Business Development Mike Romano met with the rural broadband advisor to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Tuesday about the proposed Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF).
Romano noted that services delivered in high-cost areas using RDOF funds should be reasonably comparable to those in urban areas both now and over at least the term of support distribution, if not longer. In designing the weighting system for bids made in the auction, he urged the commission to use the same “spread” among tiers as in the Connect America Fund Phase II auction, but to use 25/3 Mbps as the minimum speed, 100/20 Mbps as the baseline and 500/100 Mbps as the above-baseline speed (in addition to the Gigabit tier). In light of the increasing number of applications relying more heavily on upload speeds, he also recommended a 15-point bonus for symmetrical speeds at each level.
NTCA further advocated more forward-looking usage limitations than those proposed to date. Romano indicated the proposed 150 GB monthly usage limit is astonishingly low in the face of current usage levels that average nearly 275 GB per month. Noting that usage limits have been increasing at a pace greater than 20% per year, he recommended limits ranging from 3 TB for the lowest-capacity tier to 5 TB for the highest-capacity tier.
Romano also urged the FCC to enhance pre-bidding accountability in the RDOF auction by requiring more detailed propagation maps and plans indicating network coverage capabilities in the short-form application. Such maps and plans should not impose an unreasonable burden, but should meet well-defined engineering assumptions with respect to claimed coverage, he said. In addition, as a matter of post-award accountability, the FCC should establish reasonable subscription milestones for RDOF recipients, Romano said. Noting that RDOF recipients will, in many cases, be new entrants in areas won at auction, however, he argued that the milestones previously proposed by the FCC are unrealistic. Instead he advocated a reasonable subscription objective applied later in the distribution term (e.g. 35% subscribership after six years.)
Finally, Romano noted that universal service is an ongoing concept that surpasses mere deployment alone and is as much about “keeping broadband out there” as it is about “getting broadband out there.” Accordingly, he urged the FCC to provide ongoing support for maintenance and depreciation where an operator has deployed network capabilities in excess of prior buildout obligations.
FCC, Department of Commerce Take Steps to Secure Communications Supply Chains
The FCC adopted a report and order barring the use of Universal Service Fund money for equipment and services that threaten national security. The commission said equipment from Huawei and ZTE poses such risks because both companies have close ties to the Chinese government and are subject to Chinese laws requiring them to assist with espionage. In an accompanying further notice of proposed rulemaking, the commission proposes requiring carriers receiving USF funds to remove and replace existing equipment and services from these companies. In addition, the commission said it will collect information to determine the extent to which USF recipients have equipment from Huawei and ZTE in their networks and the costs associated with removing and replacing that equipment.
In a related development, the U.S. Department of Commerce issued a notice of proposed rulemaking and requested comment on proposed rules for securing the nation’s information and communications technology and services supply chain.
House Committee Holds FCC Oversight Hearing
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held an FCC oversight hearing today. Subcommittee members questioned FCC commissioners on a wide range of topics. Among other things, questions focused on upcoming spectrum auctions, proposals for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and a 5G Fund and plans to make spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band available for unlicensed use. Several subcommittee members expressed concerns about 9-1-1 fee diversion, autonomous vehicle safety and the accuracy of broadband mapping data.
Several subcommittee members asked about plans for an auction of spectrum in the C-band, and some committee members and commissioners noted that auction proceeds would go to the U.S. Treasury for general use unless legislation is passed to specify that proceeds should go toward rural broadband, NG 9-1-1 or other communications initiatives.
NTCA submitted comments to the FCC in response to the commission’s inquiry about the deployment of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.
NTCA issued a statement praising the passage of S. 151, the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act aimed at curbing illegal robocalls.
The FCC Wireless Telecommunications Bureau said the Rural Tribal Priority Window will open on Monday, February 3, 2020 and close on Monday, August 3, 2020. During that period, federally recognized Tribal entities will have the opportunity to apply for unassigned 2.5 GHz spectrum in what was formerly designated for Educational Broadband Service. The commission also will host a workshop about the Rural Tribal Window at its headquarters on January 14, 2020.
The Universal Service Administrative Co. filed information about the Universal Service Fund support mechanisms contribution base for first quarter 2020.
The FCC released a tentative agenda for the December open commission meeting scheduled for December 12 including items related to creating a national suicide prevention hotline and promoting continued investment in IP-based networks by clarifying VoIP symmetry rules.