Pai Points to 5G Wired Future, Criticizes Rate-Floor Policy During RTIME Appearance
In a question-and-answer session with NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai stressed the importance of wired infrastructure for 5G and said he hopes the commission will “move … with dispatch” on reforms to its current rate-floor policy.
After walking out to a standing ovation from RTIME attendees, the chairman was further applauded by Bloomfield for the commission’s Universal Service Fund (USF) order last year, which Bloomfield called “significant” in providing sustainable support for rural broadband companies.
Pivoting to the commission’s 2019 agenda, Bloomfield asked Pai about the status of updates to the commission’s rate-floor policy (see related story, “Pai Plans Rate-Floor Action in ‘Coming Months,’” in this issue of #RuralisCool), which Pai described as “crazy” because it doesn’t “take into account that incomes in rural areas tend to be lower.” He said he hopes “to be able to move on this issue with dispatch and get my fellow commissioners to agree with me.”
On the subject of 5G, after Bloomfield reminded Pai that “wireless needs wires,” the chairman acknowledged that “the 5G future isn’t necessarily a wireless future, it’s actually a wired one,” adding that the technology “has a very promising future in rural America.”
Pai several times during the discussion referred to the careful balance that the commission sought to strike in policies addressing the buildout and maintenance of rural networks, including the area of performance testing. “On the one hand we want to make sure every universal service dollar is spent wisely,” Pai said. “On the other hand … [there is a] need to minimize the burden that is imposed by this regulatory process. If there’s a better way to strike that balance, we’re certainly going to look at that.”
In a blog post summarizing the event, Bloomfield thanked RTIME attendees for the way they expressed their appreciation for Pai, and said, “I certainly hope he felt the ‘love’ on how important the continued success of the USF High-Cost program is to those who utilize it to build rural networks.”
Romano Tells House Small Business Committee How Broadband Can Aid Underserved Businesses
In comments before the U.S. House Small Business Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Tax and Capital Access, Michael Romano, senior vice president of industry affairs and business development for NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, highlighted the important roles that access to capital and federal funding play in making robust broadband available, affordable and sustainable for rural small businesses and underserved populations.
In written testimony as part of the subcommittee hearing, “Exploring Challenges and Opportunities Faced by Underserved Businesses in the 21st Century,” Romano highlighted the many ways rural broadband benefits consumers and communities, including through telemedicine, distance learning and job creation. Providing these benefits requires not only building robust networks, but a sustained commitment to ensuring those networks keep pace with consumer demand.
That sustained commitment is why “ongoing support from the High-Cost Universal Service Fund (USF) … is so important,” Romano said, as is support from the Rural Utilities Service (RUS), which “has long played a crucial role in addressing rural broadband challenges through its telecommunications programs that finance network upgrades and deployment in rural areas.”
Those RUS telecom programs “will need to continue to work in concert with USF as RUS finances the substantial upfront costs of network deployment and the High-Cost program helps to make the business case for such construction and then sustains ongoing operations at affordable rates.”
Pai Plans Rate-Floor Action in ‘Coming Months’
In letters to the Arkansas congressional delegation addressing concerns the delegation expressed last October, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told the legislators that he anticipated commission action “to protect rural Americans from unjustified, government-mandated rate increases” in “coming months.”
In his response, Pai said although the rationale for the rate floor was to “make sure that subsidies weren’t being wasted,” he shared the legislators’ concerns that the policy “appears to impose high costs on rural consumers without any corresponding federal benefit.”
Pai noted that the rate floor currently “forces many rural customers to pay higher rates than some of their urban counterparts,” and that it “has made basic voice service less affordable in some rural areas,” while also limiting consumer choice and slowing broadband deployment.
“Mandating higher rates under these circumstances seems inconsistent with the direction of section 254(b) of the Communications Act to advance universal service in rural, insular and high-cost areas of the country while ensuring that rates are just, reasonable and affordable,” Pai concluded.
Pai’s replies to the delegation, dated December 28, 2018, weren’t publicly posted until the recent government shutdown ended.
Notes in the News for February 7, 2019
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has launched a new toolkit to help support the deployment of high-speed broadband e-Connectivity in rural communities.
USDA also said it would extend application deadlines for the Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program (ReConnect Program). The first application deadline will be pushed back to May 31, 2019, or later. New specific deadlines for ReConnect Program grants, loans and grant-loan combination applications will be posted in the Federal Register in late February.
The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing, “Winning the Race to 5G and the Next Era of Technology Innovation in the United States” on February 6.
The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee held a February 7 hearing, “Preserving an Open Internet for Consumers, Small Businesses and Free Speech.”
The U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a February 7 hearing, “The Cost of Doing Nothing: Why Investing in Our Nation’s Infrastructure Cannot Wait.”
FCC has voted to create a new Fraud Division within its Enforcement Bureau.
The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau announced a soft launch date of February 6, 2019, for the National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier launches in Alaska, American Samoa, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, the Northern Mariana Islands, Rhode Island and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The FCC has rescheduled the February meeting of the North American Numbering Council for February 14.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has appointed Christine Calvosa as the commission’s chief information officer.
Pai also sent a letter to Sen. Deb Fischer (R–Neb.) informing her of his appointment of Wyatt Leehy of Great Plains Communications (Blair, Neb.) to the Disaster Response and Recovery Working Group of the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee.
And, Pai called on wireless carriers and standards bodies to continue the progress they have made toward implementing rules to improve the geographic targeting of Wireless Emergency Alerts ahead of a required implementation date later this year.
The FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and the Office of Economics and Analytics have announced the upfront payment deadline and the remaining preauction dates and deadlines for Auction 102—the auction of Upper Microwave Flexible Use Service licenses in the 24.25–24.45 and 24.75–25.25 GHz (24 GHz) band.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on February 1, 2019, granted petitions for review of the FCC’s limits on the Tribal Lifeline subsidy.
Twenty-four associations sent the White House a letter requesting that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) work with industry groups to strengthen the cybersecurity of the Internet of Things. “We urge the administration and Congress to support NIST in convening a framework-like effort on IoT security,” the letter says. “Such a framework will help stakeholders identify a flexible, performance-based, and cost-effective approach that can be voluntarily used by producers, sellers and users of IoT devices to help them manage cyber risks, data and privacy.”
The U.S. House Judiciary Committee announced that the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law will hold a hearing on competition in the wireless market on February 14, 2019.
NTCA Director of Government Affairs Michael Daniels spoke on an NRHA panel, “Rebuilding Rural America: Health Care Infrastructure,” February 5 in Washington, D.C.