#RuralIsCool Volume 1, Issue 13/March 14, 2019

Law Testifies on Impact of Rural Broadband Investment Before Senate Commerce Subcommittee

The U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet convened a hearing March 12, “The Impact of Broadband Investments in Rural America.” Denny Law, general manager and chief executive officer of NTCA member Golden West Telecommunications Cooperative (Wall, S.D.), testified that  the USF budget order passed by the FCC last December has helped Golden West to implement network upgrades and plan for future investments. “Just in our serving area, the FCC’s order will translate to direct benefits for rural South Dakotans,” Law said. “Prior to the December order, Golden West had postponed nearly $4 million in network upgrades for 2019 due to the ever-increasing cuts in USF support.”

Law said Golden West now would provide or improve broadband service in several South Dakota communities, and that “with even more time now to adjust our year 2020 plans, Golden West expects to increase its capital budget for construction considerably and reach even more locations than those identified for 2019.”

In addition to underlining the importance of the USF program for the sustainability of rural networks, Law also provided insight into several other rural broadband issues. An oft-cited concern of funding federal programs for rural broadband deployment is that existing networks will be overbuilt using federal money. In response to a question from Thune, Law said, “It is reasonable to expect that there will be coordination, as well as some level of nonduplicity, among programs.”

Sen. Deb Fischer (R–Neb.) also inquired about the status of performance testing for USF recipients. Law expressed support for performance testing in general as an accountability mechanism for carriers receiving federal funding, but pointed out that it will be “challenging, if not impossible” for rural carriers to meet the FCC testing requirements as currently outlined. NTCA has advocated extensively on ensuring fair, accessible testing procedures and a diverse marketplace of testing equipment.

Finally, in conversation with Sen. Jerry Moran (R–Kan.), Law reiterated the importance of extending the rate floor freeze past July 1. In absence of the freeze, rural telephone service rates would jump from $18 to $27. “I’m hoping the FCC understands the urgency for rural consumers,” Law said, adding that overcharging them would be “absurd.”

Sen. John Thune (R–S.D.), the newly-appointed chairman of the subcommittee, has long been an advocate for rural broadband issues and opened the hearing by declaring, “Universal service cannot be achieved without pragmatic and bipartisan cooperation in Congress, and oversight at the FCC.”  Ranking Member Brian E. Schatz (D–Hawaii) also emphasized the essential nature of wireline broadband networks, as “it does not appear that [5G technology] will be a viable universal service solution in the near future.”

NTCA Continues to Seek Changes to Rural Call Completion Draft Order

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association continued to meet with the FCC in recent days to seek several targeted changes to the commission’s rural call completion draft order.

In separate March 6, 2019, meetings with Arielle Roth from Commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s office and with Randy Clarke from Commissioner Geoffrey Starks’ office, as well as during a March 7 meeting with Evan Swarztrauber from Commissioner Brendan Carr’s office, the association asked for the following changes to the draft order “to ensure continued incentives for invocation of the ‘safe harbor’ by covered and intermediate providers alike”:

  • To ensure that the “safe harbor” retains meaning as offering “safety” from something, and in light of the positive effects record-keeping have had in promoting improved call completion performance, the commission should require intermediate providers to maintain records of how they are complying with the draft order’s requirements.
  • The commission should retain the record keeping requirement for covered providers until such time as there is an affirmative determination that the rules are effective and records are no longer necessary.
  • Make clear that the commission will impose penalties for both single infractions and patterns of noncompliance or misconduct in connection with call completion failures.

A few days before these latest meetings, NTCA had made the same requests at the offices of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

NTCA Encourages FCC to Allow RLECs to Choose Price Cap Regulation of TDM Transport Services

In reply comments filed March 11, 2019, with the FCC, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association stated that the commission adopted rules in an October 2018 order that allow RLECs to elect incentive regulation of their business data services in markets deemed competitive based on a market analysis conducted by the commission for price cap carriers. 

As NTCA noted in its reply comments, the market analysis included only 78 markets that were served solely by RLECs. Accordingly, NTCA argued that the next logical step would be to use that same market analysis once again to allow RLECs to elect price cap regulation of their time division multiplex (TDM) transport services.

Notes in the News for March 14, 2019

To help members assess threats and better manage risks, NTCA is launching a pilot forum for small network operators to share and receive timely, actionable and relevant cyber-threat information in a trusted environment through daily cyber intelligence reports, curated to meet your unique needs. NTCA will hold a webcast Tuesday, March 26, with NTCA Director of Industry and Policy Analysis Jesse Ward and Scott C. Algeier, cybersecurity consultant and executive director of Information Technology – Information Sharing and Analysis Center (IT-ISAC), to share more information.

NTCA is also hosting a Policy Talk webcast Thursday, March 28, at 2 p.m. ET. NTCA Senior Vice President of Industry Affairs and Business Development Michael Romano and Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield will discuss regulatory and legislative priorities for 2019.

On Monday, March 11, NTCA Jesse Ward, director of industry & policy analysis at NTCA, and Chad Kliewer, information security officer at Pioneer Telephone based in Kingfisher, Okla., participated in the DHS ICT Supply Chain Risk Manager Task Force meeting, which convened voting members of the task force to discuss the status of the working groups. 

The FCC will hold its March open commission meeting March 15. A meeting agenda has been posted online, as well as a notice of deleted agenda items.

The FCC has adopted streamlined procedures for reauthorizing television satellite stations when their ownership is reassigned or transferred.

A video link to the March 8 Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council (CSRIC) meeting is available online, as well as a final report on recommendations for 911 system reliability and resiliency, and best practice recommendations to mitigate security risks.

The deadline to participate in NTCA’s 2019–2020 Anticipated Broadband Activity Survey has been extended to March 15.

The U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing, “Legislating to Safeguard the Free and Open Internet,” Tuesday, March 12. Archived video is online.

The FCC Office of Managing Director announced March 13 that the proposed universal service contribution factor for the second quarter of 2019 will be 0.188 or 18.8%.


NTCA Vice President of Policy Joshua Seidemann spoke on performance measurement obligations and other topics during the Pennsylvania Telephone Association Small Company Meeting March 15, 2019, in State College, Pa.