Federal Communications Commission

Rural Counties and Universal Service Reform

September 29th, 2010 by Phoebe Yang - Senior Advisor to the Chairman on Broadband

Senior Advisor to the Chairman on Broadband Phoebe Yang delivered these remarks to county commissioners and staff from rural California counties last week in Napa, CA.

Like each of you, I understand that the health of America as a nation is inextricably dependent on the health of rural America. My hometown was an agricultural, railroad town in the rural plains of Arkansas, where farmers made their living raising cotton, rice, and soybeans. Just as my hometown farmers realized in the 1920s and 1930s that electricity was essential for them to compete, Americans today realize that broadband is no longer a luxury but a necessity to participate in the modern economy.
This recognition – that broadband is the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century – led Congress to mandate that the FCC put together our country’s first-ever National Broadband Plan. And I am pleased to share with you some of what we learned in putting together the Plan.
When drafting the plan, we identified several gaps in broadband. Specifically, 14-24 million Americans do not have broadband available to them, even if they wanted to subscribe to it. Despite rising mobile and wireless broadband usage through iPads, e-books, smart energy meters, and telemedicine, we have only 50 MHz of spectrum in the pipeline. One-third of Americans do not subscribe to broadband, even if it is available to them, because of cost, digital literacy, and their knowledge of its relevance.

4 Responses to “Rural Counties and Universal Service Reform”

  1. Nick M Jacobs says:

    I am impressed with the National Broadband Plan so far, but I hope it will get enough funding to become a reality. Between future provisions for rural wireless grants in the 2012 reauthorization of the Farm Bill, Obama's $50 billion infrastructure project, and potential funds reserved for rural wireless in the Public Safety Wireless Innovation Act I don't think there will be problem. We just have to make sure that these programs are properly appropriated.
    But the only complaint I have about the National Broadband Plan is its minimum of 4Mbs. That is a drop in the bucket compared to the average connection speeds in Europe and Asia. Furthermore the cost per Mbs is outrageous in America compared to other first world nations. According to an Information Technology and Innovation Foundation survey of broadband customers across the world, America ranks 15th, averaging 4.9 Mb/s at $3.33 per Mb/s. Ranked 1st was Japan which also has the highest average speed of 61 Mb/s costing merely $.27 per Mb/s.
    What’s the deal? We need to hustle and catch up.

  2. Desperate In Rural USA says:

    We will provide the broadband installation labor cost for free if you provide the material, equipment, and training in order to have affordable broadband in rural area. We are desperate out here folks. Broadband for Humanity.

  3. Randall says:

    I recently decided to get 3G internet through Virgin Mobile the broadband2go because there is no high-speed internet up in Phelan, CA that can do real time functions other then 3G. There is a draw back with getting broadband from a 3G tower there is soo much data that the tower can handle. I am paying $40 for the unlimted plan and there are alot of days were I get under 800Kbps because the tower is under heavy load and holidays the it so much load that you get under Dial-up Speed. In town there is DSL for the people that got it as soon as the phone company put a Few Slots and they have been full since early October of 09. Then there is also people that live pass the limit of DSL or 3G with will have to go off of Satellite internet which is very expensive. I get faster speed on my data card on a good day then what is at the libary "No WiFi" or McDonalds Free WiFi.

    Today we had some thunder storms today and for some time my Boost Mobile aka Sprint Phone could no do any over the tower for some time today.

    Friends of mine that are in phelan and there Kids schools are starting to do more stuff over the internet soon and they are going to get left behind in Education because of only having Dial-up. Dial-up is all they can afford right now and the only thing they can get.

  4. Phoebe Yang says:

    Nick - Appreciate your thoughtful comment! Just to clarify a bit, while appropriations would help accelerate implementation of certain elements of the National Broadband Plan, the Plan’s recommendations for universal access to broadband would not require new funds. The Plan recommended that the FCC modernize the existing Universal Service Fund, so spending focuses on closing coverage gaps for broadband, not just voice. The Commission has already moved on several recommendations to fundamentally retarget spending from USF to support broadband in unserved areas, and there will be more coming.

    Then there’s the question of broadband speeds. First it’s important to understand that the 4 Mbps is the Plan’s recommendation for a minimum universal speed for public funding purposes. Most countries do not have a minimum universal target, and where they do, that target is closer to 2 Mbps, so this was a huge step forward for the United States.

    At the same time, we realize the private sector can lead the nation to achieve much higher targets. That is why the NBP said that America should aim to achieve 100 Mbps for 100 million homes, both rural and urban, by 2020. Aside from public funding, the government also has certain policy levers that can help incent the private sector to increase broadband deployment and lower the costs ultimately for consumers. For example, the Plan recommends the FCC streamline the approval process and encourage uniform rates for pole attachments and rights of way. We are also arming consumers with better data which we think will increase competition in the marketplace, which is always a good development for affordability.

    We agree, that in an ideal world with unlimited resources, it would be great to have universal 100 Mbps ….but the cost to the Universal Service Fund of subsidizing such speeds in areas where the market won’t support them would be $320 billion, requiring a seven-fold increase in the fees consumers pay into the fund on their monthly phone bills.

    The Plan strikes a balance by recommending major reforms to the Universal Service Fund to support broadband, establishing a minimum universal speed required for public funding that more than meets today’s consumer and small business application needs, and creating incentives for innovation, investment, and consumer interests throughout the broadband ecosystem.

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