Enforcement Is a Must to Ensure Equitable Broadband Deployment

“It’s truly a crime that these entities are submitting false reports to the federal government,” states Chad Rupe, General Manager of Ponderosa.  Speaking at NTCA’s 2023 RTIME, Rupe’s concern is that some companies have been falsifying data by claiming they are providing service in areas where they are not. New Lisbon Holdings, Inc. CEO, John Greene, adds that this deceptive action takes away funding from building broadband infrastructure to unserved rural communities.

Greene and Rupe reinforce the importance of accurate FCC broadband maps as fundamental to ensuring government funding is directed to the right places. Greene points out that broadband availability means that service could be provided within 10 days. In the above interview, Greene provides examples of operators that overhung the market by claiming they served a given market, such as this one reported by Ars Technica

It goes beyond reporting and speeds, as the networks must be sustainable and built to last 20 or 30 years. Greene’s concern is that there are no inspection requirements to ensure network safety, quality, and reliability.  He cites an example of a grant recipient violating federal and state codes by placing a fiber pole line under high-voltage power lines.

Beyond Capital – Sustainable Operations a Must

Sustainability is also about ongoing operations, beyond the build. Simply put, when there are two or three homes per square mile, it is challenging to keep rates affordable as there are so few homes to spread the fixed cost of network operations.

This is where the Universal Service Fund comes into play. Greene and Rupe argue that this support mechanism requires a different funding source than the current fees on telephone lines. They propose an approach analogous to how trucking and other heavy road users pay more for road use based on weight. They propose something similar for the large entities such as Google, Facebook, and Netflix, that comprise most of the traffic transiting the network. Greene makes the case that this would be in the best interests of these entities as it would benefit their customers.

Another way that some of these large entities could potentially contribute to the rollout of broadband in rural areas is by providing access to their existing fiber routes that could be used for mid-mile connections.  Greene explains the challenges his company has had in enticing the owners of private fiber networks to lease fibers or even wavelengths on a fiber.

Aligning the various government agencies so that there is a sense of urgency and things, such as permitting, do not delay a build is critical, according to Rupe. He suggests government-to-government consultation, whether between different jurisdictions or different agencies, is one way to speed deployment without sacrificing quality. As a former RUS Administrator and Director of the State of Montana’s Broadband Program, his optimism for the outcome of the efforts to build out broadband in rural America has credence. 

Interview Highlights

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