An Untold Story of Connecting Communities

“It’s really been a success story, actually, an untold story of the pandemic about what our members have been able to do and accomplish to keep their customers and communities connected in one of our nation’s worst times,” says ACA Connects president and CEO, Matt Polka. Speaking at Fiber Connect 2021, Polka argues that lighter-touch regulation created an environment conducive to investment in broadband networks.

Polka points to the commitment of ACA Connects’ members to the FCC’s “Keep Americans Connected Pledge” as being a key element in the untold broadband story of 2020/2021. And while other businesses shut down, the nation’s ISPs were deemed essential and had to get creative in the ways they handled installations and new construction.

These efforts went beyond existing connections and included working with local public agencies to find creative ways to bring broadband to people both within and outside traditional service areas. For instance, Boycom Internet worked with the Clearwater R-1 School District in rural Missouri to deploy WiFi hotspots to ensure all students could connect. These hotspots were essentially broadband extensions of the schools.  District-owned Chromebook devices would automatically connect to the school’s network.

This need to connect students and others exposed the affordability gap that keeps people from connecting to the Internet. ACA Connects recent research documents the challenges to connecting the unconnected. The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is an experiment in addressing the affordability of both broadband and the associated devices need to connect to the Internet.

In addressing those concerns, Polka says it is a real challenge to find long-term solutions to the affordability gap. Echoing NTCA’s Shirley Bloomfield, Polka expresses concern that the pending infrastructure legislation or budget reconciliation could open the door to rate regulation and result in lower investment in broadband upgrades.

Interview Highlights:

  • 00:27 – Thanks to light-touch regulation one of the unsung stories of the last year has been the way broadband networks have kept the country going.
  • 01:55 – Wearing a hazmat to install a fiber-to-the-home connection is what at least one ACA Connects member had to do to connect new customers.
  • 02:57 – When people know about it, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program seems to be well received.
  • 04:04 – How do you help people without inadvertently disincentivizing network investment?
  • 05:24 – Although progress has been made, Polka points out that video programming, such as retransmission consent/broadcast carriage, is still a challenge. Polka is hopeful that once the topic moves beyond infrastructure that topics around content control and bundling can be on the legislative agenda.

Fiber Connect 2021 coverage is made possible by Calix.