NTCA Praises Historic Week of Rural Broadband Legislative Activity
Applauds Passage of Supply Chain, Mapping, USDA Rural Broadband Program Funding, Tax, Health Care and Video Legislation
Several pieces of legislation of importance to rural broadband providers received House approval this week, including bills related to the telecommunications supply chain, broadband mapping and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) ReConnect program, and tax, health care and video measures.
NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield issued a statement praising the passage of the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019, the Broadband DATA Act and the MAPS Act in the U.S. House of Representatives. All three bills are expected to be soon considered in the Senate. In a separate statement, she praised the inclusion of key rural broadband priorities in the FY 2020 appropriations bills passed by the House on Tuesday and expected to be approved by the Senate this week.
Regarding supply chain and mapping legislation, Bloomfield noted that communications supply chain security is critical and said NTCA was pleased that the bill recognizes the need to ensure that providers using equipment subsequently found to present security risks have the resources to remove and replace that equipment. She also noted that improving broadband availability maps is essential for rural, community-based providers to continue the mission of closing the digital divide.
In reference to the 2020 appropriations bills, Bloomfield said NTCA appreciates the many important provisions for rural broadband providers included in the comprehensive legislation that are expected to soon become law, including the SECURE Act dealing with pension programs, repeal of the so-called “Cadillac tax” on employer health plans, the RURAL Act addressing cooperative tax payments on grants, the STELAR bill addressing video reforms and the USDA ReConnect Broadband Program.
House Echoes Senate Support for Sustainable RDOF Networks
More than 50 members of Congress signed a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai this week urging the commission to take steps to promote the deployment of sustainable broadband networks that are capable of meeting consumer demands now and into the future. The initiative was led by Reps. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Tim Walberg (R-Mich.).
As the FCC plans the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, care should also be taken to ensure that participants in the proposed auction can successfully deliver on their promises, the representatives said in the letter. In addition, they urged the commission to put monitoring and reporting requirements in place for after support is received to ensure that support is used as intended. NTCA members sought support for the House letter and a similar letter sent to Pai by members of the Senate last week.
NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield praised 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.”
NTCA Urges FCC to Craft Forward-Looking RDOF Rules
NTCA Senior Vice President of Industry Affairs and Business Development Mike Romano met with FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel’s chief of staff on December 11 and with a legal advisor to Commissioner Geoffrey Starks on December 13 about the proposed Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF).
Consistent with prior advocacy on this matter, 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 commission 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.)
Survey Shows NTCA Members See Broadband Deployment and Adoption Gains
NTCA members are providing faster broadband speeds and promoting higher adoption rates than they were a year ago, according to a new member survey.
Over 60% of customers served by NTCA member respondents in the “NTCA 2019 Broadband/Internet Availability Survey” have access to broadband speeds of at least 100 Mbps and more than 75% have access to at least 25 Mbps—the FCC’s current baseline for broadband service. Additionally, despite the difficulties of deploying high-speed broadband in rural areas, more than 25% of survey respondents’ customers have access to gigabit services.
Regarding adoption rates, 50% of customers served by NTCA member respondents purchase service at speeds of 25 Mbps or higher—nearly triple the 2016 adoption rate for service at that speed. Nearly one fifth (18%) of customers now subscribe to service at speeds of 100 Mbps or greater.
Other report highlights include:
- More than 60% of NTCA member customers are connected via fiber-to-the-premises technology and more than half of respondents plan to reach approximately 85% of their customers via fiber by 2025.
- NTCA members provide critically important higher-capacity service to nearly all anchor institutions in their communities. Over 80% of primary/secondary schools in NTCA member territories are connected via fiber.
- Video service is perceived as important to customers, but 85% of respondents pointed to programming costs as a barrier to providing this service, and 90% of those considering discontinuing video attributed it to increased programming costs
"Although much work remains to advance and sustain broadband in rural America, NTCA members have yet again proven themselves to be at the forefront in aiming higher and doing better for their communities,” NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield said in a press release about the report.
The FCC authorized $89.2 Million in CAF II funding for rural broadband projects in 21 states.
The National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC) issued a draft report about how the federal government and private industry can collaborate to confront cybersecurity risks to the critical private infrastructure.
The FCC Office of Native Affairs and Policy submitted a report to the commission about improving and increasing broadband deployment on tribal lands.
Diane Rinaldo, acting head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, sent a letter to her staff to advise them that she is stepping down, according a report published by Multichannel News.