Over the weekend C-SPAN aired an interview with NRTC board member Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA, The Rural Broadband Association, who shared her view of the general state of rural telecommunications with a national TV audience. She appeared on The Communicators, a weekly half-hour program that features leading business and regulatory figures from the telecommunications world. Series host Peter Slen and Paul Kirby, senior editor of newsletter TR Daily, conducted the interview.
The full program, which C-SPAN recorded on June 30, is available below.
“It has been wild,” Bloomfield said in response to a question about the COVID-19 pandemic and what rural telcos have done to deal with it. “I think one of things we knew and have learned even more about in the last three or four months is that connectivity is key, and broadband is critical … My telephone companies kicked into action immediately” to meet a sharp increase in broadband demand.
A silver lining to the pandemic is that broadband take rates are up. Rural households in areas where broadband is available are connecting for the first time to meet work-at-home and distance-learning needs. “People are working fast and furiously to get as many people connected as they can, however, we still have a long way to go [to universal coverage] and even with the stimulus support [from the CARES Act], nothing has really changed the traditional programs that have funded broadband.”
Congress is debating proposals to increase funding for existing Universal Service and Department of Agriculture programs and hurry those funds into broadband providers’ hands, but none of them have passed so far.
Bloomfield mentioned proposals that she especially favored, such as the "Rural Connectivity Advancement Program Act’’ introduced earlier this summer by Senator John Thune (R-SD) which would raise broadband funding from FCC spectrum auction revenues. “I think it’s really interesting … You’re not standing up a new program. You’re simply augmenting an existing program that clearly works, and infusing that money in as quickly as possible.”