Five steps to help rural communities decide federal broadband subsidies

Jonathan Chambers outlines an interesting proposal in the Daily Yonder – “to move the decisions about rural investment from Washington policymakers to individual rural Americans.”

Here are his 5 steps (abridged):

  1. Use the FCC’s data to identify all areas unserved by broadband. Census blocks would be considered unserved if they lack broadband as defined by the FCC. Broadband is defined today as an evolving standard consisting of four attributes: speed (currently 25/3 Mbps), capacity (150 GB per month of data or the median household usage), latency (100 milliseconds) and price (median national price).
  2. Use the FCC’s Connect America cost model to determine the appropriate level of public funding for each location in each census block.
  3. Make available such support to all internet service providers (ISPs) that are certified in states as eligible telecommunications carriers (ETC). The count of each ETC’s subscribers should only include broadband service and should be limited to one subsidy per location, similar to the limitation of the Lifeline program of one subsidy per household.
  4. Every six months, when ISPs submit data to the FCC indicating geographic area, speed, technology and numbers of customers, each eligible telecommunications carrier that wishes to participate in the Connect America Fund would submit their data to the Universal Service Administrative Company. The fund administrator would compensate each carrier based upon the number of locations served with broadband and the subsidy per location per census block. The FCC would also continually update its information on where services were provided without the use of a subsidy in order to eliminate those areas from further public funding.
  5. Any ISP could win back a customer it loses, and thereby win back the subsidy amount.

There are two things I really like about these steps. First the data requirements!  It opens a door to wireless solutions that are affordable. And when/if wireless options are affordable it will create much needed competition in rural areas. If I had a magic wand, I might include consumer protections around contracts – don’t require/expect multi-year contracts.

Next – I like the idea that any ISP could win back a customer. Competition motivates. Handing off rural consumers from one provider to another without incentive for improving services leaves service to the discretion of the provider and as Chambers points out that doesn’t work everywhere. (Some providers are great! Some are not motivated – hopefully this will help.) Knowing that with a customer comes government support increases the consumer protection.

State funding and coordination can only help Minnesota make the most of any federal funding opportunities. State funding provides match (when needed/desired), which makes it easier for companies to invest here. State coordination helps providers work together, work with communities and leverage broader resources. With state coordination, we’re like the kids who study for the test – we’re prepared and we do better.

This entry was posted in Funding, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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