#RuralIsCool Volume 1, Issue 17/April 11, 2019

Oblizalo Testifies at Senate Commerce Mapping Hearing

Mike Oblizalo, vice president and general manager of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association member company Hood Canal Communications (Union, Wash.), testified April 10, 2019, before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee during a hearing, “Broadband Mapping: Challenges and Solutions.”

Speaking to the challenges of broadband mapping, Oblizalo said that while the FCC’s broadband map and the mapping tool maintained by the Rural Utilities Service are “the primary starting points in determining where services are lacking and where resources from those agencies might be leveraged to enable private network investment in rural areas,” the “lack of accurate maps and the need to refer to two different mapping tools makes for a challenging process to determine potential areas for broadband deployment and the availability of funding to enable such deployment.”

The result is that “it is not unusual for ‘conditions on the ground’ to look very different from those depicted on national maps,” Oblizalo said—a situation exacerbated by the absence of the ability to challenge FCC Form 477 data reports.

A challenge process is essential to effectively address the problem, Oblizalo contended. “Only a meaningful validation process, including the ability to challenge data on the baseline map as inaccurate, will provide for the granularity and reliability that is necessary to ensure these maps contribute to the ultimate goal of connecting every American and keeping every American connected,” he said.

During the hearing,Committee Chairman Roger F. Wicker (R–Miss.) stressed the importance of the broadband-mapping accuracy, saying, "With so much at stake, it is incumbent upon us to find ways to ensure we have a sound understanding of existing broadband availability across this country."

Conversations with Leading Policymakers, Data and Discussions Regarding Broadband Coverage Highlight NTCA Legislative + Policy Conference

Next week’s NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association Legislative + Policy Conference (April 14–16, 2019) will feature conversations with FCC commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr, as well as an address from the acting administrator of the Rural Utilities Service, remarks from an official in the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, and panel discussions with FCC staff advisers and key congressional staffers.

In addition to hearing from these leading policymakers, conference attendees will be able to see the Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC) unveil the next iteration of its map reflecting new deployments reported by recipients of Connect America Fund support. Broadband mapping also will be the focus of a session moderated by Zach Cochran, director of information services at Alexicon Telecommunications Consulting, with panelists Brent Christensen, president of Minnesota Telecom Alliance, and Greg Guice, senior vice president and senior counsel at McGuire Woods Consulting.

The conference also will feature a Rural Utilities Service roundtable with United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Telecommunications Program Assistant Administrator Chad Parker and Telecommunications Program Deputy Assistant Administrator Ken Kuchno. That same day, a congressional staff panel moderated by NTCA Director of Government Affairs Adam Jorde will include three panelists: Dan Ball, deputy policy director, majority, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation; Alex Hoehn-Saric, chief counsel, majority, House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Communications & Technology; and Rachel Rathore, senior legislative assistant to Rep. Bob E. Latta (R–Ohio).

Senate Hearings Look at USDA Budget, Robocalls

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue took part in an April 11, 2019, hearing before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies reviewing the department’s budget request for fiscal year 2020.

During the hearing, Perdue called the USDA’s new ReConnect broadband grant and loan program “a transformational moonshot that has the ability to connect rural and urban America.”

Concurrent with the Appropriations hearing, the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet held a hearing, “Illegal Robocalls: Calling All to Stop the Scourge,” examining the FCC’s first-ever report on robocalls and reviewing the efforts in Congress to tackle the problem of such calls.

NTCA Continues Push for a Robust, Data-Driven Challenge Process on Competitive Overlap

In reply comments filed April 8, 2019, in the FCC’s Connect America Fund proceeding, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association continued to stress the need for a robust, data-driven challenge process on competitive overlapped legacy rate-of-return areas.

In responding to comments on the commission’s December 2018 further notice of proposed rulemaking, the association said it supports a “a robust and data-driven challenge process for any proceeding that replaces the 100% competitive overlap mechanism eliminated by the commission” in the December 2018 report and order. “A number of parties representing providers of all sizes and technologies agree that FCC Form 477 is simply not ‘up to the task’ of accurately identifying the presence of true competitive overlap,” leading to “a very real danger of ‘false positive’ determinations of competitive presence that can harm rural consumers,” the association said. “Simply put, the withdrawal of needed high-cost support for a rural study area inaccurately identified as overlapped could result in a ‘broadband availability backslide’ that runs counter to the goals of universal service and every important step the commission has otherwise taken to expand rural broadband access.”

The association also said the record in the proceeding supports “a reasonable limit, subject to an affirmative 2024 sunset, on the maximum annual growth rate in Consumer Broadband-Only Loop (CBOL) line conversions for purposes of USF support calculations specifically.” The record also supports application of a Tribal Broadband Factor to the legacy High-Cost program, the association said.

Notes in the News for April 11, 2019

U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker (R–Miss.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D–Ariz.) have announced a bipartisan working group on net neutrality.

The Save the Internet Act passed the House on April 10 and will now proceed to the Senate for consideration. NTCA issued a statement on the bill during its markup.

The FCC will hold its next open commission meeting April 12 at 10:30 a.m. Among the items on the meeting agenda is elimination of the rural rate floor.

The FCC Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau has issued its report on the October 3, 2018, nationwide WEA and EAS test.

In response to increased marketing of video TV set-top boxes that do not comply with FCC equipment marketing requirements, the FCC has issued an enforcement advisory to offending providers.

The FCC is expanding its multilingual consumer education efforts on unwanted robocalls and spoofing spams through ongoing engagement with the National Asian American Coalition.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has resigned.



Joshua Seidemann, vice president of policy at NTCA, joined the National Association of Development Organizations Virtual Peer Exchange to present an NTCA perspective on how autonomous transportation technologies can meet mobility and economic development needs in rural America.


Tamber Ray, regulatory counsel at NTCA, participated in a Section 512 Study Roundtable April 8 at the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington, D.C.