#RuralIsCool Volume 1, Issue 14/March 21, 2019

Tennessee Broadband Grant Program Announces Recipients of $15 Million in Funding

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced March 18 that the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development will award nearly $15 million in broadband accessibility grants to 13 broadband providers in the state, including seven NTCA members.

Grantees were selected based on their demonstration of high need, as well as “the ability to implement and sustain the project long-term with strong community support,” according to a press release. This influx of funding will impact more than 8,300 households and businesses in Tennessee, as well as 17 different counties.

“I am pleased to announce that we are getting our rural areas up to speed and expanding broadband in the areas that need it most,” said Lee. “I am committed to ensuring connectivity in every corner of our state as broadband impacts our goals for health care, education, economic development and beyond.”

Loretto Telecom (Loretto, Tenn.) is one of the NTCA member companies that was awarded grant funding—more than $1 million. As companies will be required to match funds provided through the state grants, this translates into a more than $2 million investment over the next two years. Loretto will use its grant funds to build a fiber network in Lawrence County, the company said.

“This was a highly competitive grant process, and we are thrilled to have been chosen from among the many companies who applied,” said Jason Shelton, general manager of Loretto Telecom. “This grant will help us deliver broadband to an area of the state that desperately needs access.”

Tennessee Telecommunications Association Executive Director Levoy Knowles sees the state broadband grant program as an exemplar of public-private partnerships—partnerships that NTCA too has championed. “Today, the state partnered with Tennessee’s cooperative and independent telcos to take another step toward addressing the rural broadband challenge,” said Knowles.

Other NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association member companies receiving grants include BTC Communications (a subsidiary of Bledsoe Telephone Co.; Pikeville, Tenn.); Ben Lomand Communications (McMinnville, Tenn.); North Central Communications (Lafayette, Tenn.); TDS Telecom (Knoxville, Tenn.); Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative (Gainesboro, Tenn.) and WK&T Telecommunications Cooperative (Mayfield, Ky.).

NTCA Expresses Continued Concerns Over Rural Call Completion Order

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association reacted to the FCC’s implementation last week of the Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act of 2017. With its action, the commission said that intermediate providers would now be required to:

  • Take steps reasonably calculated to ensure that all calls they handle are delivered to their destination.
  •  When routing calls to rural areas, monitor the performance of any other intermediate providers with which they directly contract, and based on the results of that monitoring, take steps to address any performance problems with those providers.
  •  Ensure that any intermediate providers to which they hand off calls are registered

But the association, which had advocated for changes to the order while it was in draft form, expressed concerns over the final order. “We are concerned … that aspects of today’s action could open the door for backsliding with respect to rural call completion, leaving rural Americans waiting once again for calls that are placed but never arrive,” said NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield. “Specifically, with today’s elimination of the last traces of record-keeping and reporting on call completion, it will be all the more important now for the FCC to pair the new call router registry and higher-level monitoring measures with more aggressive enforcement to ensure that we don’t take steps backward as a nation in ensuring calls reach their intended destination.ˮ

ATVA Raises Four Issues in Connection With the Nexstar, Tribune Merger

The American Television Alliance (ATVA), of which NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association is a member, submitted comments March 18, 2019, to the FCC about the proposed merger of Nexstar Media Group Inc. and Tribune Media Co. The transaction would create the largest television broadcast company in the country.

The alliance raised four issues related to the transaction, saying that:

  • The applications are not yet ripe for review and won’t be until the applicants disclose the stations Nexstar proposes to divest, the parties to whom it proposes to divest and the terms under which it proposes to divest.
  • The proposed transactions will raise retransmission consent prices.
  • The applicants’ assertion that MVPDs will benefit by paying more in retransmission fees to obtain one-stop shopping is dubious because the harm of higher consumer prices “dwarfs whatever slight benefit MVPDs gain from the transaction’s alleged efficiencies.”
  • MVPDs do not act as “gatekeepers” between broadcasters and their audiences.

“When the record in this proceeding is complete, the commission should reject the novel claim that price increases that are paid by the public are a benefit, not a harm,” the association said. “And in any event, these harms are not outweighed by any alleged negotiating efficiencies to MVPDs. Finally, the commission should reject claims that MVPDs act as ‘gatekeepers’ between broadcasters and their viewers.”

NTCA Supports Elimination of E-Rate Program’s Amortization Rule

In comments filed March 18, 2019, responding to the FCC’s notice of proposed rulemaking on the E-Rate Universal Service Fund (USF) program’s amortization rate, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association said it supports its elimination.

“This rule, when in effect prior to its temporary suspension in 2014, undermined the efficiency and utility of the E-Rate program for schools and libraries,” the association said. 

However, the association also said its support for elimination of the amortization rule is subject to the condition that the commission also amend its E-Rate special construction rules to promote better coordination between its USF programs and prevent overbuilding. “Specifically, the commission should ensure that existing investments made in rural areas as supported by the High-Cost USF program and that benefit residential and business consumers on a communitywide basis are not put at risk via duplicative overbuilding.”

NTCA Highlights Performance-Testing Needs, Rate Floor Concerns During FCC Meeting

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association last week continued to raise concerns about the FCC’s rate-floor policy and the implementation of performance testing requirements in a joint meeting with other associations.

During a March 15, 2019, meeting with Preston Wise, special counsel to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the association told the commission that it must ensure its rate-floor policy brings no harm to rural consumers in the coming months, particularly because consumer notifications must be sent or state regulatory approvals must be obtained “in connection with substantial rate increases.”

The association also argued for the need for “a reasonable path” for performance-related testing requirements, including the need for:

  • The commission to resolve pending petitions for reconsideration and applications for review and to complete work on implementation details.
  • Sufficient time for vendors and providers to develop solutions that conform to the final specifications once articulated by the commission and that will impose minimal intrusion upon customer experience.
  • Sufficient time to install those solutions and “test the testing” prior to the effectiveness of compliance requirements that would affect universal service support.

Notes in the News for March 21, 2019

The Foundation for Rural Service (FRS) hosted Rural Broadband 101 for Capitol Hill staffers on March 19 in Washington, D.C. FRS Director Jessica Golden presented during the event, as did NTCA Vice President of Policy Joshua Seidemann and Eric Cramer, chief executive officer and general manager at Wilkes Telephone Membership Corp. (Wilkesboro, N.C.)

The FCC has released its fiscal year 2020 budget.


The FCC on March 15 adopted rules to reimburse certain Low Power TV (LPTV), TV translator, and FM stations for eligible expenses incurred as a result of the commission’s incentive auction.


The FCC announced before its open commission meeting March 15 that it will evaluate how potential changes to its partitioning, disaggregation, and spectrum leasing rules might further the agency’s goals of closing the digital divide and increasing spectrum access for small carriers and those in rural areas.


A first report and order was issued to create a new category of experimental licenses for use of frequencies between 95 GHz and 3 THz, at the FCC’s open meeting March 15.


Effective March 15, the FCC is moving its Equal Employment Opportunity audit and enforcement functions from the Media Bureau to the Enforcement Bureau.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr will visit Tennessee, Ohio and Kentucky for events with Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R–Tenn.), Rep. Bob Latta (R–Ohio), and Rep. Brett Guthrie (R–Ky.).

DHS National Risk Management Center Director Bob Kolasky appeared on “Government Matters” to talk about the work of the DHS ICT Supply Chain Risk Management Task Force and progress on the work streams. “Government Matters” airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. on WJLA (ABC 7) in the Washington, D.C., area. The episode is now posted online.


NTCA Senior Vice President of Industry and Affairs and Business Development Michael Romano attended the Minnesota Telecom Alliance Annual Convention and Trade Show March 18–20 in Minneapolis, Minn.


NTCA Advocacy Program Manager Michelle Ly gave a federal advocacy update March 19 at the Utah Rural Telecom Association annual meeting in St. George, Utah.