#RuralIsCool, Volume 1, Issue 50 | December 12, 2019

USDA Announces Additional $550 Million for ReConnect As More NTCA Members Win Round One Funding

Farmers Mutual Telephone Company (FMTC) USDA ReConnect Announcement

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today that it will soon begin accepting applications for its second round of $550 million in Reconnect Pilot Program funding. USDA Sec. Sonny Perdue made the announcement in Stanton, Iowa, home of Farmers Mutual Telephone Company (FMTC), which received $6.4 million in first-round Reconnect Pilot Program funding to connect 477 households, 35 farms and 21 businesses in Iowa's Montgomery and Page counties.

USDA said it will make available up to $200 million for grants, up to $200 million for 50/50 grant/loan combinations, and up to $200 million for low-interest loans. The application window for the second round of funding will open Jan. 31, 2020, and close no later than March 16, 2020.

In addition to FMTC, three more NTCA members were awarded rural broadband funding through the ReConnect program since the last issue of #RuralIsCool.

Home Telecom (Moncks Corner, S.C.) won an $8.1 million grant to deploy fiber in unserved areas of Charleston and Berkeley counties in South Carolina. The project is expected to reach 3,780 rural households, 23 farms, 19 businesses, 19 educational facilities and eight fire stations.

Atlantic Telephone Membership Corporation (ATMC; Shallotte, N.C.) was awarded a $7.9 million grant to deploy fiber to unserved and underserved rural areas of Columbus County, N.C.. The project, known as ATMC’s Faster Columbus Advanced Connectivity for Communities, Education, Safety and Support (ACCESS), will make service available to 4,057 households, 18 businesses, 22 farms, 15 educational facilities, three health care facilities and 10 critical community facilities spread over approximately 150 square miles.

Valley Telecommunications Cooperative (D.B.A. Valley FiberCom; Herreid, S.D.) will use a $9.5 million ReConnect grant to deploy fiber to the home in Brookings, Kingsbury and Moody counties in South Dakota. The project will make service available to 1,750 rural homes, 27 farms, 17 businesses and one critical community facility.

Several other NTCA members have also received funding.

Senate Letter Urges Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Focus on Sustainability

A letter sent to the FCC by 48 U.S. senators this week urges the commission to ensure that that broadband service meets the needs of consumers as it makes plans for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) led the letter.

NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield issued a statement praising the letter, noting, “Networks are built not for the mere sake of meeting deployment goals, but rather for the purpose of connecting as many Americans as possible to one another—and the commission’s program requirements should reflect this purpose by aiming higher.”

Also on December 9, Bloomfield and Mike Romano, NTCA senior vice president of industry affairs and business development, met with FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks and his legal advisor about RDOF plans. The group discussed the need to recognize the value of better service capabilities and symmetrical services in the RDOF auction and the importance of promoting greater accountability prior to bids and following awards. NTCA’s advocacy was consistent with prior filings on this matter.

FCC Moves to Free Up More Spectrum and to Create 988 Suicide Hotline, Clarifies VoIP Rule

The FCC took steps at today’s monthly commission meeting to free up more spectrum for wireless communications and to establish the three-digit number 988 for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. In addition, the commission clarified a rule involving VoIP and access charges.

The commission adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to make the lower 45 MHz of the 5.9 GHz band available for unlicensed use and to permit Cellular Vehicle to Everything (C-V2X) operations in the upper 20 MHz of the band. 

In another NPRM adopted today, the commission seeks comment on removing the existing non-federal allocations in the 3.3-3.55 GHz band as a step toward potential future shared use between federal incumbents and commercial users.

In an Order on Remand and Declaratory Ruling, the FCC clarified that a local exchange carrier partnering with a VoIP provider may assess end office switched access charges only if the carrier or its VoIP partner provides a physical connection to the last-mile facilities used to serve the end user.

Telcos from North Dakota, Indiana, Kansas Represented on FCC Precision Agriculture Task Force

Representatives of three NTCA telco members have been tapped to serve on an FCC task force reviewing issues that affect the needs and deployment of high-speed internet access on farms and in farming communities. 

The Task Force for Reviewing the Connectivity and Technology Needs of Precision Agriculture gathered this week in Washington for its inaugural meeting. Seth Arndorfer, chief executive officer of Dakota Carrier Network (Bismarck, N.D.) and Steve Vail, vice chairman of NineStar Connect (Greenfield, Ind.), were in attendance. Task Force Vice Chair and NTCA member Catherine Moyer, chief executive officer and general manager of Pioneer Communications (Ulysses, Kan.), joined the meeting via video. 

The Task Force, which includes representatives from agriculture and academia, received presentations from several FCC and U.S. Department of Agriculture representatives who discussed USF, broadband mapping, spectrum, and agricultural data, among other issues. The FCC also announced Task Force Working Group leaders; members of the Working Groups are yet to be named.


Lynn Merrill, president of Monte R. Lee and Co., represented NTCA at the FCC Technological Advisory Committee meeting on December 4. 

The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5035, the Television Viewer Protection Act of 2019.

The FCC established an application programming interface to streamline the enrollment process for the Lifeline program. In addition, the commission issued a public notice clarifying that Lifeline providers remain liable for ensuring the eligibility of their subscribers to receive Lifeline service.

The FCC auction of spectrum in Band 103 (37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz band) service kicked off on December 10.

The commission issued a final list of services eligible for funding through the schools and libraries universal service support (E-rate) program for 2020.

The National Exchange Carrier Association, Inc. (NECA) has submitted the annual average schedule company high-cost loop support (HCLS) formula modifications for Commission review.

The FCC adopted an order establishing the Digital Opportunity Data Collection in the Modernizing the FCC Form 477 Data program.