A Ground Level View of Rural Broadband Expansion

One of the more impassioned comments heard at the 2015 ACA Summit was from cable entrepreneur Clifford Duncan of Duncan Cable TV explaining how one-size fits all regulations impact small operators and their ability to extend broadband further into rural America. Duncan is an expert on this topic, having brought cable television to his rural Vermont birthplace and home. With only a handful of employees, Duncan wears many hats, including line technician, webmaster, TV personality, general manager and investor.

This last role may be the most important one as far as the community is concerned, as it was his investment that launched the system in 1972 with only 60 subscribers. It has been his continual reinvestment in the system that has allowed it to evolve to broadband and, in some cases, fiber directly to the home.

He explains that the 1980s Accelerated Cost Recovery System fueled the expansion of his network beyond the initial service area reaching its current level of 2,500 cable and 1,500 broadband subscribers. He advocates for tax credits instead of the Universal Service Funding approach for expanding broadband to rural areas, as he saw how tax credits freed up cash for investment in outside plant and associated infrastructure.

He expresses concern that Title II regulation of broadband will hamper expansion into unserved areas. What he describes encompasses both opportunity costs (time he and his daughter, Rebecca Duncan, Business Manager, spend on paperwork, is time that can’t be spent improving their network), as well as hard costs (e.g. paying lawyers to figure out what paperwork needs to be done). As a proof-point, he indicates the reason they never offered telephony services was that he didn’t want his company to be bogged down by Title II regulations.

It’s clear that both Clifford and Rebecca are much more interested in bettering the communities they serve than filling out paperwork. Clifford mentions how they extended fiber into a village of eight people; a town where there was only dial-up before and a town they weren’t required to serve. Rebecca’s passionate about bringing the community together by capturing the stories and events of the people and places of southern Vermont through their local channel, The Vermont Television Network.

ACA Summit coverage brought to you by the ACA and ViodiTV.




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