WASHINGTON, May 27, 2009 – Rural broadband deployment has many possible hurdles to clear, the Federal Communications Commission said on Wednesday in “Bringing Broadband to Rural America,” a report on a rural broadband strategy.
Although the report was required by the 2008 Farm Bill, passed in the Bush administration, it dovetails with the requirement, in the February 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, that requires the FCC to create a national broadband strategy by February 2010.
Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps (D) said while there are multiple problems with coverage in rural areas, the report is a positive “building block” on the way to a national plan.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack agreed on the importance of improving rural broadband connectivity.
Broadband “will not only enhance farmers and ranchers’ ability to market goods and enhance production, it will help residents in rural communities obtain needed medical care, gain access to higher education, and benefit from resulting economic activity and job growth,” Vilsack said.
Public-private partnerships, as well as inter-agency cooperation, will be essential to the effort, the report noted.
The report encouraged agencies to create individual broadband agendas and share them with the FCC and Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
Furthermore, agencies should coordinate with tribal governments to develop their own broadband strategies.
Measures in the same line ought to be taken towards minority and disabled groups. Existing relationships, such as the Federal-State Joint Conference on Advanced Services should also be put to their fullest uses, the report said.
Broadband data and mapping is the key to the quickest reform in rural and national broadband, the report said. While Copps said efforts thus far had been “insufficient,” he said that moving forward, the commission would work to better collect the information “in coordination with the administration and tribal and state governments.”
The most apt representation of the consumer need for broadband can be shown through the mapping effort associated with “subscribership,” according to the report. Subscribership can give both provider- and technology-specific results, which is invaluable information in providing prescriptive funding.
Subscribership information from rural, minority, disabled, and tribal groups, as well as those “anchor institutions” like schools, libraries, and health institutions, will shed the most light the needs that should be met foremost, said the report.
The report called broadband speed a “crucial component” of measuring rural coverage, including determining new hardware might be installed, or older hardware might be replaced or updated.
Networks should be built according the “demands of the future,” the report said, in comparison with other countries that have deployed upgraded networks.
The report also contemplated the the need to obtain greater broadband “demand” within rural and low-income areas for the various demographics.
Whether on the supply side or the demand side, the report said, neither speed nor demand could be quantified without specific mapping efforts. The FCC has already seen the disagreement between “broadband connection speeds that customers experience [that] are neither constant nor identical advertised speeds or the theoretical maximums of a given network or particular service configuration.,” the report said.
In this report, the FCC is requesting annual reports from such broadband providers instead of mere “regular” reports, including information from mobile broadband as well.
“Decision makers therefore should proceed on a technology-neutral basis—by considering the attributes of all potential technologies—in selecting the technology or technologies to be deployed in a particular rural area,” said Copps.