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Pai Promises More Attention on Rural Broadband

Randy Sukow Jul 14, 2017

If it seems like there is a lot of orchestrated attention on rural broadband issues these days, it’s because there is. Government officials and key industry players sense that it is a winning issue. If the eventual result is truly improved access to broadband in unserved area, it could be worth the hype.

Chairman Ajit Pai has declared that “August will be Rural Broadband Month at the FCC.  Our agenda for the open meeting on August 3 will feature several items that will help bridge the digital divide.”

In a blog post, he goes into detail of his recent multistate road trips to rural broadband providers, first to Midwest states and then to neighboring states close to Washington, DC, over the past week.  He says that his impression from the trips is that there are many parts of the country where Americans are missing out on beneficial economic opportunity because of the lack of broadband. “But this week’s road trip has left me invigorated, not discouraged.  That’s because I also saw firsthand the opportunities that are unlocked when next-generation networks connect rural communities,” he said.

As we noted yesterday, the FCC during the Aug. 3 meeting is planning to augment the USF Mobility Fund and begin an investigation into possible use of middle-band spectrum to support fixed wireless broadband in rural areas. It is planning additional actions as well.

Pai intends to release a Public Notice outlining proposed bidding procedures on the long-awaited Phase II Connect America Fund auction. “To maximize the value the American people receive for the universal service dollars we spend, this will be the first auction to award ongoing high-cost universal service support through competitive bidding in a multiple-round, reverse auction,” Pai said. Beginning the pre-auction bidding preparations puts the auction on a track for 2018, he said.

The meeting also will review the latest attempts at improving rural broadband data collection through the Form 477 submission process. The FCC has received considerable criticism over the years for the inaccuracy and lack of timeliness of its estimates of broadband access in remote areas of the country. Broadband providers submit detailed reports on their subscriber levels twice yearly, but the Commission analysis of the numbers usually is not available for several months after and is not granular enough to accurately locate unserved areas.

“It’s often said that you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” Pai said, agreeing with the need to reform.  “Specifically, we will consider changes to the FCC’s Form 477 to improve the value of the data we collect, while also identifying and eliminating unnecessary or overly burdensome filing requirements.”

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