FCC wants universal broadband

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February 10th, 2011

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Lincoln, NE – The Federal Communications Commission wants to expand broadband in rural areas by renovating the program that has done the same for phone service.

“My dream would be for anybody, even in the most remote areas to have high enough speeds to download movies, conduct business and play those darn games.” Sandra Scofield, director of the Nebraska Rural Initiative, is hopeful that a new proposal from the FCC can meet the goal of making broadband universal. “If you don’t have that, your area is just behind the door.”

To upgrade rural homes to high speed internet, the FCC wants to redirect money that is currently used to maintain universal phone service. Everyone with a land-line connection pays a couple extra dollars to the universal service fund. That money supports phone networks in what the FCC calls “high cost rural areas.”

Director Sandra Scofield said higher broadband levels will appeal to more Nebraskans including young people. (Photo courtesy University of Nebraska Rural Initiative)

In Nebraska, rural telephone companies received $127 million in high cost funding in 2010. Derek Turner is a policy researcher for Free Press, a telecom broadcast group. He said some of that money is going away as the FCC looks to streamline its support in rural areas.

“Right now, those companies receive support based on the total cost of their network,” he said. “But the federal government only considers the revenues they earn on telephone service.”

“So in other words,” he said, companies are also earning revenues on broadband and television services, but those revenues don’t count against their need for subsidies. That means, “If their subsidy does decreases, there won’t be a loss of service for Nebraskans.”

If it means making more high quality broadband connections, Scofield of Nebraska Rural Initiative is all for it. But she’s concerned that the federal government could reinforce discrepancies in internet speeds between urban and rural areas.

“That’s a handicap in terms of doing business,” she said, “and a handicap in terms of making your community more appealing to, in particular, young people.”

“When a young person goes to a university they get used to high speed internet,” she said. “When they come back, somebody may say yeah, you have broadband, it’s not the same.”

The State Public Service Commission is working on a map that is intended to give a more accurate view of broadband access in Nebraska. The changes in FCC support will be up for public comment and may be up for a review in Congress before going into effect.

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