The rules changes imposed by the FCC have caused a great deal of consternation for many RLECs. With the amount of funding or investment recovery uncertain, RLECs have begun to batten down the hatches and reduce their infrastructure spending and existing or future personnel. The Rural Broadband Alliance (RBA), consisting of 200 rural telecommunications service providers, has written a letter to President Obama and congressional leaders requesting that changes to the USF be put on hold until further review by congressional committees and the Federal State-Joint Board which was created by Congress in 1996 to review proposed changes to the USF rules. Apparently, the FCC has not seen fit to submit the revised rules for review.
It would not be out of line for the RBA’s request to be considered since much of the debate surrounding the Fiscal Cliff includes discussion of the impact upon small businesses if we go over the cliff and much of rural America’s telecommunication infrastructure and services is provided by small businesses.
In its letter to Obama and congressional leaders, the RBA identifies a number of supporters who have publicly called for either a review or delay of the rules changes among them Senator Tom Harkin and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
I have not seen a response to the letter and, of course, as far as general news coverage, most of America will never know of the request. However, that does not mean the action by the RBA should go unnoticed by the parties that can assist in improving or modifying the new rules.
Clearly, when the FCC set up a waiver process, which it recently modified, it also recognized that the changes could adversely affect many RLECs. With the wavier process the FCC’s stated objective is to correct any “inappropriately” reduced funding. More still needs to be done to streamline the process and make it’s application to the RLECs fair.
Our communications infrastructure is critical to the success of business and needed by consumers for their daily activities. In previous blogs I identified the need to balance our efforts to expand broadband and IP communications in rural areas with the need to increase speed and reduce pricing for all. The RBA has an obligation to bring visibility to rural America’s communications needs and how the rules changes are causing RLECs to reduce infrastructure investment as they also increase the cost of their services. We, as an industry, should recognize this as part of our larger ecosystem and join in pressuring our governmental leaders to address the issues raised. In the end the objective is to improve access, speed and pricing for everyone.