What is Save Rural Broadband?
Save Rural Broadband exists to educate Americans about rules currently being considered and implemented by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that could have a detrimental impact on millions of Americans and on communities that rely on rural broadband Internet networks and to advocate for responsible reform that will sustain these vital networks that generate economic prosperity and enhance the quality of life for all Americans.
What Is the Mission of Save Rural Broadband?
Our mission is to: (1) show the Congress and the Obama Administration how rule changes being considered and implemented by the FCC will have a negative effect on broadband networks in rural communities, and (2) urge Congress and the Obama Administration to ensure that a more reasonable alternative set of reforms will be adopted.
The new rules will result in job loss and stalled economic development in regions of our country where that development and growth is most needed.
These ill-advised attempts at reform are undermining decades of successful investment in critical broadband infrastructure in areas served by small, rural broadband providers. The reforms are also hindering future investment in rural broadband networks, and leaving consumers and businesses with services at risk to become either outdated or unaffordable – where services remain available at all.
To be sure, reform is needed, but the changes must be surgical, rather than experimental. Save Rural Broadband seeks to promote the adoption of carefully constructed, well-targeted reforms that build upon and modernize a system that has worked so well to promote broadband access in rural America.
Who Created Save Rural Broadband?
The organization was created by the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, the Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies and the Western Telecommunications Alliance.
For more information, please visit our website at www.saveruralbroadband.org.
Why is Rural Broadband Important?
Rural broadband has a significant impact on the quality of life in rural America and on the broader U.S. economy by helping businesses and entrepreneurs grow and prosper. It allows Americans living in rural areas to communicate with the wider world and the wider world to communicate with them.
Rural telecommunications companies serve approximately five million customers throughout the country. Working with government and the private sector, these companies are often the only source of affordable, high-quality broadband throughout their communities.
Just last year the FCC and the Obama Administration reasserted the importance of ensuring that “…rural communities…enjoy the same access to the economic, educational, health care and public safety opportunities and services that broadband delivers in urbanized communities.” It’s time to ensure that the federal government carries out a consistent policy to further that mission, rather than sending mixed messages that deter broadband investment in many parts of rural America.
What Is the Universal Service Fund?
The principle of “universal service” precedes the Communications Act of 1934, arising out of a commonly shared national goal to ensure that those areas not served by “Ma Bell” at the time would be able to connect with the rest of the country. Congress codified this policy as a matter of law in 1996, and expressly directed the FCC to carry out this policy through the creation of a “specific, predictable, and sufficient” Universal Service Fund (USF).
The USF program created in the wake of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 ensures that rural telecom companies and cooperatives receive support to reimburse a portion of the cost incurred in offering communications services in high-cost rural areas. This federal USF support, together with their own substantial private investments, has been essential in enabling rural providers to deploy high-quality networks in rural America while providing services to consumers and businesses at affordable rates.
This system has been a success and has generated benefits to millions of Americans, businesses and state and local governments.
Small rural broadband providers are committed to delivering and upgrading the current broadband foundation – to build on a legacy of success. But this job is not done, and the USF is needed to make this foundation sustainable.
The FCC says the recent broadband rules it has adopted would help increase the expansion of broadband service to rural America. How could you be opposed to that?
We are not at all opposed to that goal. But the new rules would put that goal in jeopardy.
The fact is rural telecommunications companies and cooperatives are in many cases the only source of broadband service throughout their rural communities. Rural telecommunications companies have been building, maintaining and upgrading broadband networks throughout these service areas, and USF support has been and remains critical to that effort. The FCC’s new broadband rules severely reduce support for many of these rural networks. If these rules aren’t revised many consumers and business owners in rural America would see the promise of affordable, modern communications technology pass them by. That is what we oppose.
Reform is needed, but the changes must be surgical, rather than experimental. The FCC should revise its new broadband rules to include building upon and modernizing a system that has worked so well to promote broadband access in rural America.
Isn’t your opposition to the FCC’s new broadband rules simply about protecting your bottom line?
No. We believe this is about keeping a commitment to provide Americans living in rural areas with access to broadband services reasonably comparable to the services enjoyed by those living in urban areas. Providers based in these areas are committed to them, and have used universal service support to invest in them.
Deploying broadband in sparsely populated areas where homes, businesses and towns can be miles apart is a very different proposition from providing it in cities where homes and office buildings are very close to each other. Rural telecommunications companies and cooperatives want to continue the progress we have made in bringing broadband to rural America, but the new rules put that at risk.
Some at the FCC believe that wireless is the answer, not wireline. How do you respond?
It is not an either/or situation. These services are complementary. There is a role for both services, and many of our members offer both. However, it is important to note that even with wireless services, it is necessary to have a wireline network to connect cell towers back to the regional or national network. And the greater the wireless data demands are, the more towers – and thus more wires – are needed to handle all of that traffic.
Why shouldn’t the FCC direct more funds toward “unserved” rural areas in which larger carriers operate?
We understand and wholeheartedly support the policy objective of making sure that all rural consumers and businesses have reasonably comparable access to broadband, regardless of who serves the areas in which they live or work. But small rural telecommunications companies and cooperatives have shown substantial commitments to operating in the hardest-to-serve parts of rural America, and they have made significant investments in deploying and upgrading broadband services in low-density, high cost rural areas. In fact, in most cases, our companies and cooperatives exist in the first instance precisely because larger companies did not want to serve these areas.
We have made basic levels of broadband service available to more than 90 percent of our rural consumers in sparsely populated areas, which comprise approximately 40 percent of the nation’s land mass. We have relied upon USF, paired with substantial private investment, to make that happen. But USF support is needed to continue providing those services and to upgrade them as needed to keep pace with the rest of America. Unfortunately, the new rules would limit the continuing availability of that much-needed USF support and deny us the opportunity to move beyond basic broadband service. That is simply unfair to the customers served by small rural telecommunications companies, which have worked to bring broadband to rural consumers and businesses from the start.
There are many ways in which to promote greater broadband investment where it does not exist today without undermining the availability and affordability of broadband access in those rural areas where it is provided today. A careful balance must be struck, and the new rules don’t strike that balance.