It's All about Broadband

July 24, 2017

It seems there is a never-ending supply of information about the ins and outs of the Universal Service Fund (USF), its' proposed structure, potential funding shortfalls and its' status on regulatory dockets. As ILECs know, the health of universal support is crucial to paying off past capital expenditures and for making future spending decisions about bringing quality communications to rural America.

The regulatory process appears, at times, to be agonizingly slow, and — in the eyes of many people trying to get things done in the real world — unnecessarily complex. It shows signs of failing to reach the necessary decisions to support existing broadband deployment, provide reliable clarity for companies willing to assume the risk in providing expanded broadband coverage, and allow standalone broadband for consumers anxious to have that product.

It is important for ILECs to stay abreast of the nuances of the regulatory debate over USF and other important industry matters. However, there are other general trends and developments in terms of broadband availability that bear watching.

Economic and Cultural Success via Broadband

First are the growing calls for recognition of broadband deployment as crucial to the future economic and cultural success of our entire nation. Even President Trump, speaking at a recent rally in Iowa, has spoken of rural broadband as a crucial part of his promised infrastructure package intended to enhance our national economy in both the short and long term. The number of Congressmen and Senators on record as promoting broadband deployment bodes well for the inclusion of broadband funding in any infrastructure spending package that will be considered on Capitol Hill. Hopefully, any robust funding for broadband infrastructure will send a message to the FCC to stop nickel and diming USF decisions and to get moving aggressively on decisions such as approval for standalone broadband offerings. Tying significant initial infrastructure funding for rural broadband with regulatory policies providing support for those initiatives would be a remarkable accomplishment for the new administration. Well worth keeping an eye on as infrastructure discussions proceed in the coming months.

Broadband for the Unserved and Underserved

Another trend is the growing awareness that large swaths of the United States, unlike areas served by the traditional ILEC industry, are unserved and underserved in terms of broadband availability. This causes a number of entities such as electric cooperatives and small municipalities to seriously explore getting involved in broadband deployment. ILECs have traditionally viewed such interest in a negative light, viewing it as unnecessary competition. However, the growing consensus that broadband is a crucial service and that ILECs will never be able to cover all of rural America by themselves means that electric cooperatives (and probably municipalities) could be coming to the broadband world in large numbers.

Partners in Broadband

Simply railing against competition has rarely been a successful long-term strategy in American business. That is why a recent joint initiative by NTCA, NISC, NRTC and CFC deserves attention. PartnersinBroadband.com is a website designed by the four organizations to promote interaction between those seeking to bring broadband to unserved or underserved areas and those ILECs who already have. Partnerships, sharing resources or advice, offering infrastructure for use or any number of other outcomes can only be possible if there is awareness and communication. Such communication has been lacking in the past. Both electric cooperatives and ILECs could benefit from attacking the broadband deployment problem together rather than separately.

Evolving Technology

Finally, the trend of continuing technological evolution must be monitored more than ever. Regulatory decisions are important, but technological breakthroughs and improvements are the real solutions for solving problems. As an example, recent announcements by AT&T about its' enhanced commitment to a 5G Fixed Wireless deployment is exactly the type of issue that should be widely discussed in ILEC circles in terms of applicability to rural areas, competitive impact on fiber deployment, reliability, appeal to consumers and so many other questions.

As these trends suggest, broadband has never been more needed or appreciated. ILECs committed to deploying and enhancing broadband service will find a committed partner and product provider in Inteliquent. We look forward to working together with you to make the promise of broadband a reality.

WRITTEN BY ANDREW BROWN, VICE PRESIDENT OF INDUSTRY AND CLIENT RELATIONS

Andy has worked on behalf of rural ILECs throughout his 35+ year career in telecommunications. In addition to his five years with us, he has advocated for the industry in legislative, regulatory and business settings during previous stints with NTCA, NRTC and two prominent telecommunications law firms.

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