TMCNet:  FCC: Rural Broadband Still Needs Gov't Push

[June 25, 2011]

FCC: Rural Broadband Still Needs Gov't Push

(Multichannel News Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The Federal Communications Commission has concluded that rural broadband deployment still needs some help from the government, including “major Universal Service Fund reform,” as well as the removal of such barriers as speed and price.

While the FCC said progress has been made, including lower pole-attachment rates and smoother rights of way for cable operators as well as the introduction of such inexpensive offerings as Comcast’s low-cost, high-speed “Internet Essentials” program more needs to be done.

That message came in a congressionally mandated update to the requirement in the 2008 Farm Bill that the FCC and the Department of Agriculture revisit a 2009 report outlining their rural broadband strategy.

The report concludes that while “a number of private- and public-sector initiatives are underway,” and significant progress has been made, “additional efforts and new policies including major universal service policy reform are still required to ensure that rural America fully shares in the benefits of the emerging broadband economy.” The report did not include mobile broadband.

The agency’s conclusion is not a big surprise.

The FCC has already said that, in general, broadband is not being deployed in a reasonable and timely manner. It drew a similar conclusion last month for the second time in its annual 706 report on broadband deployment, noting that the 26 million people without broadband were primarily in rural communities.

Cable operators are concerned that the FCC could use those findings to justify price regulation or speed mandates.

The commission said in the rural report that progress had been made, and included not only Comcast’s Essentials program one of the conditions for approval of its NBCUni-versal merger deal but also its December 2010 vote to impose network-neutrality conditions, saying those rules will “will provide greater clarity and certainty regarding the continued freedom and openness of the Internet, and support the marketplace’s cycle of investment and innovation, driving increased investment in broadband infrastructure.” The commission also cited its moves to require data roaming, as well as toward broadband-stimulus programs administered by the Agriculture and Commerce departments.

But the point the FCC hammered home was that “bringing broadband to rural and insular areas of the country is a task of significant cost and complexity that will require continuation of each of these efforts as well as new initiatives to address any additional obstacles that come to light.” FIXED BROADBAND AVAILABILITYAREAPOPULATIONPOPULATION WITHOUT ACCESS*% OF POPULATION WITHOUT ACCESS*Rural Areas67,224,94318,974,28528.2%Non-Rural Areas243,181,4227,186,0533.0%All Areas310,406,36526,160,3388.4%* Defined as population without access to fixed broadband service at 3 Mbps/768 Kbps or faster.

SOURCE: FCC from State Broadband Data and Development Grant Program data The FCC said it would try to look first at market-driven initiatives to spur deployment and adoption “where appropriate,” but it would also need to continue to remove barriers to both, which it said in the 706 report include price and speed.

It also said mobile broadband, which was not included in the report due to a lack of granular data, would be another way of bridging what it says are still “significant” deployment and adoption gaps.” The FCC also put in another plug for freeing up spectrum from broadcasters and others, saying such a move should increase access to wireless broadband in rural areas.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association was still reviewing the report at press time, but AT&T was quick to latch onto the report as further evidence that its merger with wireless rival T-Mobile would be in the public interest.

“Our proposed merger with T-Mobile USA is a bold step toward achieving greater rural broadband deployment, extending 4G LTE wireless broadband to encompass an additional 55 million Americans beyond our current plans many in rural areas or small towns,” AT&T said.

2011 International Press Telecommunications Council

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