"The overarching issue is how to pay for replacing thousands of miles of obsolete copper wire with modern fiber-optic cable, without making internet service so expensive for customers that only businesses and the wealthy would be able to afford it," Lefler reports. "The costs are staggering, about $20,000 a mile for fiber cable to serve widely dispersed customers in small villages and isolated farms." (Eagle graphic: The state's top 10 counties with the biggest population losses from 2000-15 are all rural)
During a roundtable discussion with Roberts and Pai, the biggest issue among telephone executives was who would foot the bill to expand broadband, Lefler writes. "Much of the funding for broadband deployment in rural areas comes from the Universal Service Fund, created by Congress in 1934 to string phone lines to isolated communities and farms. In 2009, FCC expanded universal service to include broadband and created the 'Connect America Fund' to help spread the money around. But some telephone company officials say that kind of end-user funding is obsolete in the context of the internet, where the biggest users of the system aren’t necessarily the end-of-the-line consumers."