#RuralIsCool Volume 1, Issue 27/June 20, 2019

UniTel’s Osler to Testify on Broadband Mapping

Beth Osler, director of customer and industry relations for UniTel, Inc. (Unity, Maine), will testify on behalf of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association during the House Committee on Small Business hearing, “Broadband Mapping: Small Carrier Perspectives on a Path Forward” at 10 a.m. ET on June 25. The hearing will be streamed live on the committee’s website.

Osler is expected to testify on the critical role of accurate mapping in determining where limited resources for broadband support should be spent, and to ensure incentives exist for private investments where they can be justified. UniTel—like many small carriers—has observed cases when FCC broadband maps missed the mark in depicting an accurate portrayal of broadband access, showing an entire census block as served when even just one location in that block is served, for example, and making that census block ineligible for support funding.

NTCA has advocated for a thorough validation process where the data that are used to create the maps are authenticated through a challenge process that provides opportunities to correct information before decisions are made to eliminate support in an area that is in fact unserved by any other provider.

The hearing comes as several members of Congress have signed letters to the FCC encouraging the agency to double its efforts to improve broadband mapping. A delegation of Illinois members of Congress, led by Sen. Richard Durbin, sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on June 17.

Illinois Delegation Sends Letter to Pai on Broadband Mapping

The congressional delegation from Illinois became the latest in a long list—including delegations from Kansas, North Dakota and Wisconsin—to send a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai urging him to improve the nation’s broadband maps.

Several state delegations have echoed a similar sentiment: the current mapping process is not accurate, due in large part to a lack of granularity in the data, the lack of a robust verification procedure for that data, which is self-reported by broadband providers, and the absence of a challenge process. Accurate broadband availability data is essential to maintain the integrity of federal rural broadband grant funding and financing mechanisms, the letter said. “Inaccuracies within the data may currently be translated onto the broadband maps, which are used to allocate … financing. A failure to allocate federal investment where it is needed most ultimately falls on constituents.”

In its letter, the Illinois delegation called into question the progress outlined in the FCC’s 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, saying, “[Some] argue that broadband connectivity is even worse than the Commission’s data illustrates.” The letter indicated a reform of the FCC’s Form 477 process as one avenue for improvement. “We urge the Commission to explore developing a process to validate or authenticate the information produced by service providers.”

The letter is consistent with much of NTCA’s advocacy on the issue, including its recent support for the Broadband DATA Act introduced in the Senate.

NTCA Comments on NTIA Voluntary Collection of Broadband Availability Data

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association on June 20 filed comments in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA).request to collect voluntary data that would be used to create a national map of broadband availability.

NTIA is currently seeking approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to collect voluntary data. NTCA voiced support for the creation of a single nationwide coverage map but urged NTIA to “provide clearer guidelines regarding the methods that will be deemed acceptable to use when measuring and collecting the data” as well as to consider “a process to reconcile, validate or ‘challenge’ the data prior to publication of such data in a map.”

In its comments, NTCA acknowledged the insufficiency of current data and said, “better data on broadband availability is critical to sound decision-making on broadband policy.” But the association reiterated its position that to ensure the data provides “useful and actionable information,” it will be necessary to establish clearer standards regarding what constitutes “available” broadband service and when broadband capacity is considered “insufficient.”

NTCA also emphasized that the collection process must not be burdensome to those willing to voluntarily submit data, and that the data must be validated prior to being used for policy making or funding decisions. NTCA further suggested that NTIA “coordinate with other agencies such as the FCC and the Rural Utilities Service” to ensure the data is consistent.

Notes in the News

Thirty-seven rate-of return carriers have notified the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau that they will elect incentive regulation beginning July 1, 2019, for their lower-speed business data services.

The proposed Universal Service Fund contribution factor for the third quarter of 2019 is 24.4%, according to the FCC.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on June 17 announced a new task force focused on connecting American farms and ranches.

According to several reports, Chad Rupe, the acting administrator of the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service, will soon take the role permanently. Rupe is a rural broadband leader and former state director of USDA Rural Development in Wyoming.

The FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau held a webinar for small and rural communications providers regarding network resiliency on June 17. The event and the supporting slides are archived on the Commission’s website.

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks says he'll hold a workshop next week aimed at identifying and replacing equipment from Chinese telecom companies like Huawei that are embedded in U.S. networks.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr has advanced for a full commission vote a $100 million Connected Care Pilot Program to support telehealth for low-income Americans across the country, including those in rural areas. Carr announced the initiative during a visit to a community health care clinicin Laurel Fork, Va., and later visited NTCA member Citizens Telephone Cooperative (Floyd, Va.)


NTCA Advocacy Program Manager Michelle Ly moderated a June 14, 2019, discussion in Washington, D.C., on PAC management for the National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics.

NTCA Senior Vice President of Industry Affairs and Business Development Michael Romano provided a regulatory update June 21, 2019, at the Carolina-Virginias TMA Annual Conference in Myrtle Beach, S.C.Romano also took part in a June 19 SHLB Group Coalition webinar on congressional broadband proposals.

On Wednesday, June 19, Jesse Ward, NTCA director of industry & policy analysis, participated in a Department of Homeland Security ICT Supply Chain Risk Manager Task Force meeting.