Wednesday, February 05, 2014

FCC opens door for rural groups to gain access to money for broadband service

Federal Communications Commission money for rural broadband could be in the works, if rural providers can prove why they should be awarded the funds. "Last week the FCC voted to launch an experimental program to allow surplus from the Connect America Fund to go to rural broadband providers that hadn’t previously been eligible for the support," Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder. "The money will pay for pilot projects to help the FCC learn what approaches work best for expanding broadband service in rural areas."

"The new FCC experiment is looking for 'diverse' rural organizations to tell the commission how they would invest Connect America Fund money in rural broadband projects," Marema writes. "That opens potential applicants up to nonprofit organizations, cooperatives, municipal or tribal governments and private businesses, for starters." Edyael Casaperalta, coordinator of the Rural Broadband Policy Group, told the Yonder, “This is a chance to show the FCC that there’s a lot of interest among rural providers for this funding."

The problem, though, is convincing the FCC that there's a demand for funding. Jonathan Chambers, the chief of the FCC’s Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, told the Yonder, “I think if we see a big expression of interest, we’ll set a bigger budget. We’ve got to hear from folks first, and I think we will. . . . But if we don't hear anything, we'll learn something.”

"In 2010, the FCC restructured the Universal Service Fund and established the Connect America Fund as part of the National Broadband Plan," Marema writes. "The fund is supposed to help telecommunications companies make the transition to new technology like broadband, especially in harder-to-reach areas like rural communities. But the funding has been available only to large 'incumbent' telecommunications providers like AT&T and Verizon." When some companies turned down the money, because of issues with rules, money was left in the funds. But some groups that wanted the money for rural broadband weren't eligible for it. Now they could be. (Read more)

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