Disconnected: Rural Broadband and the Business Case for Small Carriers
WASHINGTON—Today, Members of the Subcommittees on Health and Technology and Agriculture, Energy, and Trade held a joint hearing on the challenges in the current regulatory and operational environment that limit the ability of small carriers to bridge the rural digital divide.
“As our world becomes increasingly dependent on a robust telecommunications service and wireless internet, the lack of it in places like American Samoa and rural America becomes even more glaring,” said Subcommittee Chairwoman Amata Radewagen (R-AS). “As we begin to examine the current state of America’s infrastructure and take steps to improve our nation’s highways and buildings, we need to ensure that broadband is at the front and center of all infrastructure discussions.”
“Small, rural internet service providers shoulder a heavy burden deploying broadband across hundreds of miles of diverse and sparse terrain,” stated Subcommittee Chairman Rod Blum (R-IA). “The significant investment required to deploy, maintain, update, and continually service these high-cost, rural areas should not be taken lightly.”
Bridging the Digital Divide
In an ever-changing technological era, the ability to provide high-quality and potentially life-saving broadband to rural Americans is key to putting America first. Earlier this year, President Trump created the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity that presented a report focused on e-connectivity in rural America. The report cites that access to broadband, “is not simply an amenity—it has become essential.”
“With respect to many parts of rural America, the four nationwide providers tend to focus coverage only on towns and major highways, and place sparsely populated areas at the very bottom of their network upgrade list,” said Erin Fitzgerald, Regulatory Counsel at the Rural Wireless Association, Inc. in Washington, DC. “In contrast, rural-based providers tend to prioritize and value customer experience when it comes to network coverage by making every effort to provide robust coverage throughout all parts of their service area`, even outside of towns and miles from public roads.
“Currently, however, providers must navigate a regulatory maze to gain approval to serve their communities, facing significant application review delays and burdensome, unforeseen fees while working through the federal, state, and local siting processes,” implored Tim Donovan, Senior Vice President for Legislative Affairs at the Competitive Carriers Institute in Washington, DC. “Just last week twenty-four non-nationwide CEOs and senior executives from CCA member companies joined together to urge the FCC to streamline infrastructure policies by providing regulatory certainty around siting processes, timelines, and fees to deploy and upgrade mobile broadband services.”
“Small rural internet service providers are key to building the rural broadband infrastructure,” stated Paul Carliner, Co-Founder of Bloosurf, LLC., in Salisbury, MD. “When it comes to providing high speed internet service in rural communities, we know from experience that one size does not fit all. Every rural community is different.
“These small businesses are hard at work, under tough circumstances, bringing advanced communications services to areas where there are few people and little financial reward. They do this so their communities don’t fall on the wrong side of the digital divide; they want them to be active participants in this digital era and global economy,” said Derrick Owns, Senior Vice President of Government and Industry Affairs at WTA-Advocates for Rural Broadband in Washington, DC. “It is encouraging to see policymakers devote an increased level of attention to rural broadband over the past several years.”
Access to rural broadband spurs job growth and job creation. Improving access to education, health services, and innovation in the agritech sector are all dependent on the ability to transmit data and communicate information quickly, efficiently, and at a low cost.