Last week, two of the organizations with which we regularly work to promote community solutions to broadband submitted comments to the FCC on the matter of USF reform.
Among the comments from the Rural Broadband Policy Group, is this passage:
Members and allies of the Rural Broadband Policy Group hold “local ownership and investment in community” as a core principle in broadband deployment. We believe that local ownership of broadband infrastructure can address problems such as lack of service, limited provider choice, affordability, slow speeds, and also enforce strong consumer protections. Policies that encourage local ownership create opportunities and wealth in communities. For example, local broadband networks employ IT professionals who live and work in the local community. When communities own their communications infrastructure, not only do they boost their local economies and create jobs, but are also held accountable to ensure that broadband is accessible to every resident. Moreover, the 70-year history of rural electric and telephone cooperatives proves that locally owned networks are vital stewards of public subsidies.
We are disappointed that the proposed USF/CAF reforms ignore the advantages of local ownership and prohibit community broadband networks, anchor institutions and Tribal governments from receiving USF/CAF support. The proposed reforms do not create avenues for local ownership in rural, Tribal, and low-income communities. This is a lamentable flaw in the proposal, and we respectfully request that the Commission include the following recommendations:
Communities that self-provision should be eligible for funds.
Currently, proposed USF reforms exclude community-based networks that have done the most to build out broadband infrastructure to provide essential services in underserved areas. These self-provisioning projects range from municipal networks to private sector nonprofit networks, and play a critical role in the future of their communities. Yet, they are not eligible for the proposed Connect America Fund. Self-provisioning communities have invested their social and financial capital in broadband infrastructure and services because incumbent carriers refused to make these investments. We are innovators, entrepreneurs, digital literacy educators, and Internet Service providers – it is essential that our communities have all the available options to build the networks we need, and to advocate for network ownership and operation that connects us to today’s economy, culture, society, and democracy.
The Media Action Grassroots network submitted comments to FCC Commissioners Copps and Clyburn focusing on the need to protect the interests of the most vulnerable people in society. We are especially concerned that Chairman Genachowski is adopting too many of provisions pushed by the self-interested big companies that have the most lobbying clout.