#RuralIsCool Volume 1, Issue 18/April 18, 2019

NTCA Members Joined by FCC Commissioners, Congressional Staff and More During L+P 2019

NTCA members and rural broadband advocates from across the country convened in Washington, D.C., April 14, 2019, for the association's annual Legislative + Policy Conference. The conference welcomes representatives from the congressional and policy arenas to speak to NTCA's membership about top-of-mind issues facing the rural broadband industry and conducts educational sessions about the latest industry developments.

NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield kicked off the week's events with remarks highlighting the significant progress being made in rural broadband deployment. She then welcomed to the stage FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, who spoke about using federal dollars allocated for rural broadband deployment efficiently and ways the commission is working to prevent existing rural networks from being overbuilt.

Chad Rupe, acting administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Rural Utilities Service, spoke about the "challenges of connecting wide open spaces" and how USDA provides grants and loans to mitigate those challenges.

Monday's agenda also included a visit from Kelsey Guyselman, senior policy counsel in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, who outlined ways the current administration has championed broadband access. NTCA Vice President of Strategic Communications Laura Withers also debuted the association's new "throwback" social media campaign, in honor of NTCA's 65th anniversary this year. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr closed out the morning by reflecting on his visit to Minnesota late last year. In his first year and a half at the commission, Carr has visited 25 states, including several NTCA member companies. Carr spoke to the importance of storytelling in advocacy and of getting out of Washington to gain new perspective on issues like rural broadband.

During the afternoon breakout sessions, the Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC) introduced its newest map of Connect America Fund (CAF) providers. Unlike the FCC's national broadband map, which collects data at the "census block" level of granularity, the USAC map uses points of latitude and longitude, and the data that supports the map is collected directly from carriers and subject to a USAC verification review.

The second day of the conference began with a breakfast visit from Rep. Rob J. Wittman (R–Va.), co-chair of the U.S. House Rural Broadband Caucus. Wittman highlighted three ways to better reach the underserved with broadband: better mapping, cutting burdensome regulations and building future-proof fiber networks. Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.) also addressed attendees by video. Members dispersed in the afternoon to join NTCA's government affairs staff at meetings with congressional staff.

FCC Eliminates Rural Rate Floor

At its open meeting last week, the FCC voted to eliminate the rate floor, a 2011 rule that, left unaddressed, would have raised rural telephone rates as much as 50% starting this June—or started reducing rural operators' universal service support as of July had they failed to raise local rates.

"Today's action is consistent with the FCC's statutory responsibility to ensure that rural consumers receive quality services at just, reasonable, and affordable rates, and that rural carriers continue to receive the predictable and sufficient universal service support needed to serve high-cost areas," the commission said of its action.

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield applauded the commission's decision. "For far too long, many rural American consumers have faced the prospect of rapidly escalating rates for voice telephony services because of a rate floor policy that was ill-designed from its inception," she said.

Had the commission not acted, the rate floor would have risen from $18 to $26.98, the commission said.

White House, FCC Announce Rural Digital Opportunity Fund

On April 12, 2019, President Donald Trump and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced that the commission will provide $20.4 billion for a new Rural Digital Opportunity Fund over the next 10 years to support broadband deployment in rural America. Pai also used the event to provide further details about the commission's upcoming 5G spectrum auction, which will begin December 10 of this year.

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield lauded the commission's action on the new rural fund.

Bloomfield added that the association was pleased that the FCC would be taking a lead role in the effort. Bloomfield also blogged about the announcement, which was among "many good things" that happened last week for the rural broadband industry.

NTCA Supports AFR to Reconsider and Overturn Dismissal of ATA Petition for Waiver

In comments filed April 16, 2019, with the FCC, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association supported the application for review (AFR) filed earlier that month by GCI Communications. The GCI AFR asks the commission to reconsider and overturn the Wireline Competition and Wireless Telecommunications Bureaus' dismissal of an Alaska Telephone Association (ATA) petition for waiver seeking limited relief from certain backhaul mapping portions of the Alaska Plan order adopted in 2016.

The association said the CGI AFR correctly argues that the bureaus dismissed the ATA petition in error and that their cost-benefit analysis failed to properly balance the benefits of the location accuracy standard against the burdens it imposes on a subset of ATA's members.

"In addition, the bureaus have consistently failed to explain why the location accuracy standard is necessary," the association said.

Notes in the News for April 18, 2019

The Foundation for Rural Service released a new Smart Rural Community white paper, "Rural Broadband and the Next Generation of America Jobs," during an event on April 17.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on April 12, 2019, released an update on implementation of the farm bill. The Rural Development title includes updates to the Cushion of Credit Program, the American Broadband Initiative and the Council on Rural Innovation and Economic Development.

The FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau has announced that the effective date of rural call completion registry-related requirements for intermediate and covered providers is May 15, 2019.

The FCC on April 12 eliminated several regulations and compliance requirements that in the commission's view increased the burden on telephone providers without benefiting consumers.

The FCC on April 12 proposed to modernize its rules for over-the-air reception devices to allow users to deploy small, next-generation networking devices on their own property.

The FCC has released a small entity compliance guide in its continued efforts to accelerate broadband deployment by removing barriers to infrastructure investment.

The FCC has taken several more steps to make millimeter wave spectrum available for 5G technology and other services. A fifth report and order on the issue was recently released.

The FCC seeks comment on bidding procedures for its next 5G spectrum auction.

The effective date of the FCC's streamlined procedures for reauthorizing television satellite stations when they are assigned or transferred is May 15, 2019.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has made available several resources during National Supply Chain Integrity Month meant to raise awareness about supply chain threats.

The FCC has rechartered the Communications Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council (CSRIC). CSRIC may consider several issues including, but not limited to: (1) the reliability of communications systems and infrastructure; (2) 911, Enhanced 911, and Next Generation 911; (3) emergency alerting; and (4) national security/emergency preparedness communications. Nominations for membership must be submitted to the commission no later than May 8, 2019.


NTCA Communications Coordinator Ashley Spinks attended a Community Fiber Gig Celebration April 18 at Citizens Telephone Cooperative (Floyd, Va.).