Last week, I attended one of my favorite conferences – the NTCA Legislature and Policy Conference. I do not go to speak or attempt to sell ANPI products or services. I attend with the objective of learning more about the issues facing rural America that require the support of either the FCC or Congress. It is also an excellent opportunity to meet with senior members of our customer base to discuss the latest regulations, rules or laws affecting their ability to maintain their commitment to serving rural America.
This year’s conference was very well attended with a well-conceived agenda. The panel discussions and speakers were both interesting and well informed. It is this level of engagement that expands upon our understanding of policy positions and recommendations.
ANPI is a strong supporter and sponsor of this NTCA event and we confer regarding telecom policy regularly. So we attend understanding most of the “asks” well in advance of the meeting. However, by attending the conference, we gain a better understanding of the effect upon our shareholders and ILEC customer base. This year, the major “asks” of the Hill included the following:
- The Universal Service Fund needs to have a distribution model that recognizes the change in communication technology where consumers are abandoning traditional wireline service in favor of VoIP and wireless services (38% of homes are wireless only). The current rules do not support this transition, and actually impede a small rural carrier’s ability to serve their customer base by offering the latest communications services. The current rules compensate based upon the delivery of decades old POTs circuits, and actually reduces support for transitioning customers to VoIP or broadband supported voice services such as Hosted Unified Communications.
- The Connect America Fund – designed to expand the deployment of broadband – is still a work in progress with some settled points for the larger carriers, but no movement for the small rural carriers. This is delaying or preventing many ILECs from making further investments in broadband and, in some cases, jeopardizing the return on previously made investments in the expansion of their network infrastructure. If such efforts are to remain on track, and the needs of rural consumers and businesses are to be met, this needs to be addressed quickly.
- According to the FCC, the rate floor for local phone rates must be increased from $14 to 20.46 in the next few months or certain universal service support will be eliminated. The result is a 32% increase in cost at a time when many Americans are still struggling with the effects of the last recession, which will likely drive them to seek lower cost alternatives such as VoIP. These actions will threaten the ability of the ILECs to execute their mandate of delivering communications services and, more importantly, due to how 911 is implemented, may threaten the safety and, thus, the health of those in rural communities.
While many on the Hill do not have the time to understand how these issues impact our customer base and telecom operations, it is our responsibility to take the time to inform them. We can conduct the necessary analysis and develop the policy positions that they can, in turn, support by enacting legislation or influencing the FCC. That is both our right and our obligation.