I recently joined some other grassroots groups in talking to FCC Commissioner Copps about the ways the FCC could improve access to telecommunications for most Americans -- you know, the mission of the Federal Communications Commission. This was the day before FCC Chairman Genochowski announced the broad outline of Universal Service Reform.
Presently, it appears that the FCC will broadly adopt the industry's plan of taking more money from subscribers and spreading it among private companies and coops that are providing services in rural America. We have called up on the FCC to recognize the important role of community broadband networks and make them eligible recipients of USF funds but the FCC appears to be ready to double down on its past mistakes of relying on absentee-owners who have little incentive to actually provide reliable services at affordable prices. (Fred Pilot has also called upon the FCC to make this change.)
The result is that communities like rural Sibley County in Minnesota's farm country may build their own next-generation broadband network, only to find the federal government subsidizing a vastly inferior DSL network from a competitor. This is a fiscally irresponsible approach that prioritizes the profits of a few private companies over what is best for the vast majority of private companies and residents in communities that need networks that are actually accountable to them.
If you care about this issue, you should ask the Rural Broadband Policy Group or Media Actions Grassroots how you can help. They have been working to break through the beltway bias against solutions that encourage local self-reliance.
The FCC will soon release its USF reform approach and I fear it will do very little to actually help communities while doing a lot to help a few companies continue to receive federal funds while ignoring community needs. It is long past time the FCC stop entrusting our communications future to absentee landlords and look to community networks ... or at least locally owned private alternatives embodied by WISPs.
While we prefer networks that are democratically accountable to the communities, local private ownership would be vastly preferable to the waste we see with the present system.