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Register to Attend the Rural Telecommunications Congress Program at Broadband Communities Summit

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DALLAS, April 6, 2017 – The Rural Telecommunications Congress program at the 2017 Broadband Communities Summit here on May 1-4, 2017, will feature panelists on the Universal Service Administrative Corporation’s role in bringing broadband to underserved and unserved communities, the role of broadband mapping in today’s telecommunications ecosystem, a case study of bringing broadband to Appalachia, a robust discussion of co-working spaces and the impact they can have on rural communities, and many other topics.

REGISTER TODAY to attend the RTC sessions by using the Rural Telecommunications Code discount code of RTC350. This registration code entitles you to the lowest possible rate to attend not only the RTC sessions, but the entire Broadband Communities Summit program. The cost is $350.

Below is a complete list of the Rural Broadband Track at the summit. In coming days, I’ll be highlighting individual programs in separate articles laying out what you can expect at each session.

Tuesday, May 2

3:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Track Session
A VOICE FROM WASHINGTON
Connecting Rural America: How the Universal Service Fund is Bringing Broadband to Underserved and Unserved Communities

A discussion of the strategically important Universal Service Fund and ongoing FCC modernization of the federal program to support broadband infrastructure as well as voice service. This session will cover high-level changes at USAC, which administers the $10 billion program, along with an overview of the four programs that make up the fund. It will also take a closer look at the High Cost program, which accounts for nearly half of the entire Universal Service Fund, as the FCC transforms it to subsidize broadband with the new Connect America Fund. In addition, this session will provide an update on the new HUBB (High Cost Universal Broadband) portal, which will collect geolocated broadband deployment data from carriers showing exactly where they are building out mass-market, high-speed Internet service.

Moderator:
Keith Montgomery
– CFO, Declaration Networks, Group, Inc.

Panelists:
Mark Sweeney
– COO, Universal Service Administrative Company  (USAC)
Habib Simab – Director of Operation -High Cost Program, Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC)
Bill Johnson – GIS Director, Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC)


4:10 pm – 5:00 pm
Track Session
MAPPING BETTER BROADBAND
What are Government Officials and Private Companies Doing to Fill the Void?

Understanding the locations where high-speed internet service is available has never been more important to the Federal Communications Commission, the Universal Service Administrative Corporation, and a range of federal and state government agencies. Yet the end of the State Broadband Initiative puts data-collection efforts at a disadvantage. What are government official and private companies doing to fill the void?

Moderator:
Drew Clark
– President, Rural Telecommunications Congress; Editor & Publisher, BroadbandBreakfast.com

Panelist:
Brian Rathbone
– Broadband Planner, Broadband Catalysts
Steve Rosenberg – Chief Data Officer, Federal Communications Commission
Bill Johnson – GIS Director, Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC)

Wednesday, May 3

9:00 am – 9:50 am
Track Session
Broadband is the New Coal: How Appalachia is Tackling Broadband
What the Appalachian Regional Commission has done to spur the development of broadband and technology-based economic development to help offset the loss of the coal economy in communities from Pennsylvania to Tennessee.

Moderator:
Eric Ogle
– Treasurer, Rural Telecommunications Congress; Senior Consultant, Magellan Advisors

Panelists:
Michael Curri – President, SNG (making a short presentation about broadband in the states)
Mark DeFalco – Manager, Appalachian Regional Commission
Lee Brown – General Manager, Erwin Utilities, Erwin, TN
Nathaniel Watkins – CIO, Garrett County, MD
Cheryl DeBerry – Natural Resources Business Specialist, Garrett County, MD


10:00 am – 10:50 am
Track Session
Learn from the Winners
(Presented with NTCA)
Find out what earned three showcase communications companies the NTCA’s prestigious Smart Rural Community Showcase Award, given for promoting rural broadband networks and the broadband-enabled applications that communities can leverage to foster innovative economic development, commerce, education, health care, government services, public safety and security and more efficient energy distribution and use.

Moderator:
Josh Seidemann
– Vice President of Policy, NTCA

Presenters:
Scott Behn – CEO, Mossaic Telecom
Brian Thomason – CEO, Blue Valley Network Companies
George Plisinki, II – Telecom Operations Manager, NineStar Connect


2:30 pm – 3:30 pm
Track Session
Fiber-Based Incubators and Tech Hives
For most communities that develop or partner for high-speed broadband network, economic development and job creation is the primary motivation.  Some particularly innovative communities are taking the next step and developing incubators that cultivate and support new businesses.  These communities are leveraging their connectivity to attract new entrepreneurs and high-tech companies into their community.  Our panelists each have experience working with fiber-based incubators and will talk about some of the positive outcomes and lessons learned.

Moderator:
Gene Crick
– Rural Telecommunications Congress

Panelists:
Doug Dawson – President,  CCG Consulting
Robert Wack – City Council President, Westminster, MD
Joel Smith – Accelerant BSP
Dennis Donohue – Lead, Center for Innovation & Technology, Western Growers; Former Mayor, Salinas, CA
Gabriel Garcia – Director & Senior Counsel, CPS Energy


4:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Track Session
Paying for the Last Mile: Check Out This Essential Service Approach that Pays for the Last Mile
There are proven models (e.g. electrical co-ops, gas utilities) to finance broadband in higher-cost areas by approaching it as an essential service. This session will examine a new way to fund the last mile by combining Broadband Improvement Districts, cost reduction financing and local economic growth in a manner that is sustainable and low risk. And if you’re wondering if it’s a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist…. Recent SNG research reveals that rural broadband subscribers receive half the bandwidth for the same price as their urban counterparts. Furthermore, subscribers with one broadband provider are getting less than half the bandwidth that subscribers with two or more providers get in their area — again for the same price. There are still far too many unserved and underserved areas and the current business case approach is not addressing their needs.

Moderator:
Michael Curri
– Founder & President, Strategic Networks Group, Inc.

Panelists:
Bruce Patterson – Technology Director, City of Ammon, Idaho
Bryan Adams – Director of Sales & Marketing, LS Networks

Thursday, May 4

9:10 am – 10:00 am
Track Session
Ownership Models for Rural Broadband
In metropolitan areas, broadband providers are usually vertically integrated – the same company builds, owns and manages the infrastructure and also delivers services. Rural network owners have been more willing to experiment with different ownership and funding models. In this session, we’ll hear from multiple network owners that have achieved success in rural areas.   Find out what the trade-offs are among these different models, and learn how to decide which is right for your network.

Moderator:
Joel Mulder
– Vice President of Sales, ex2 Technology

Presenters:
Bruce Patterson – Technology Director, City of Ammon, Idaho
Leo Carlson – Business & Technology Manager, Norvado
Rick Smith – General Services Director, City of Cortez


10:10 am – 11:00 am
Track Session
Rural Quality of Life; Balancing Digital Opportunities and Technological Disruptions
Given affordable broadband access and appropriate devices, bridging the digital divide depends on what first you learn is possible, and then, choose to do with broadband. Without attention to appropriate support systems for growing a rural and/or urban, local culture of creativity, the digital divide will persist, even with broadband. This panel will address actionable strategies for scalable training, motivation, and ongoing support for grassroots champions, and social entrepreneurs, in rural, tribal, and urban communities.

Moderator:
Frank Odasz
– President, Lone Eagle Consulting

Presenter:
Michael Liimatta – Professor, City Vision University; Former Manager of ConnectHome at HUD


11:10 am – 12:00 pm
Track Session
BETTER BROADBAND POLICY
Revising the Telecom Act to Meet the Needs of Rural America
A chance for all to meet with serious folks who have spent years working on broadband diffusion and their ideas of how to change the laws to create more broadband access in rural America. They were here when the Internet started  and have helped grow it. What laws do we need to change?  What partnerships do we need to develop? Financing for smaller firms and community access institutions.  Cross Border Initiatives Schools, Libraries, HealthCare funding.

Moderator:
Jane Smith Patterson
– Partner, Broadband Catalysts, LLP

Presenters:
John Windhausen – Executive Director SHELB, Washington DC
Mark Johnson – Vice President, the Quilt, and former Director of USCANN
Will Aycock – Greenlight  General Manager

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.

Health

FCC Proposes Notification Rules for 988 Suicide Hotline Lifeline Outages

The proposal would ensure providers give ‘timely and actionable information’ on 988 outages.

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Photo via Health and Human Services

WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission unanimously adopted a proposal to require operators of the 988 mental health crisis line to report outages, which would “hasten service restoration and enable officials to inform the public of alternate ways to contact the 988 Lifeline.”

The proposal would ensure providers give “timely and actionable information” on 988 outages that last at least 30 minutes to the Health and Human Services’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, the Department of Veteran Affairs, the 988 Lifeline administrator, and the FCC.

The commission is also asking for comment on whether cable, satellite, wireless, wireline and interconnected voice-over-internet protocol providers should also be subject to reporting and notification obligations for 988 outages.

Other questions from the commission include costs and benefits of the proposal and timelines for compliance, it said.

The proposal would align with similar outage protocols that potentially affect 911, the commission said.

The notice comes after a nationwide outage last month affected the three-digit line for hours. The line received over two million calls, texts, and chat messages since it was instituted six months ago, the FCC said.

The new line was established as part of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, signed into law in 2020.

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Health

FCC Eliminates Use of Urban-Rural Database for Healthcare Telecom Subsidies

The commission said the database that determined healthcare subsidies had cost ‘anomalies.’

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WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted a measure Thursday to eliminate the use of a database that determined the differences in telecommunications service rates in urban and rural areas that was used to provide funding to health care facilities for connectivity.

The idea behind the database, which was adopted by the commission in 2019, was to figure out the cost difference between similar broadband services in urban and rural areas in a given state so the commission’s Telecom Program can subsidize the difference to ensure connectivity in those areas, especially as the need for telehealth technology grows.

But the commission has had to temporarily provide waivers to the rules due to inconsistencies with how the database calculated cost differences. The database included rural tiers that the commission said were “too broad and did not accurately represent the cost of serving dissimilar communities.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel gave an example at Thursday’s open meeting of the database calculating certain rural services being cheaper than in urban areas, when the denser latter areas are generally less expensive.

As such, the commission Thursday decided to revert the methods used to determine Telecom Program support to before the 2019 database order until it can determine a more sustainable method. The database rescission also applies to urban cost determinations.

“Because the Rates Database was deficient in its ability to set adequate rates, we find that restoration of the previous rural rate determination rules, which health care providers have continued to use to determine rural rates in recent funding years under the applicable Rates Database waivers, is the best available option pending further examination in the Second Further Notice, to ensure that healthcare providers have adequate, predictable support,” the commission said in the decision.

Healthcare providers are now permitted to reuse one of three rural rates calculations before the 2019 order: averaging the rates that the carrier charges to other non-health care provider commercial customers for the same or similar services in rural areas; average rates of another service provider for similar services over the same distance in the health care provider’s area; or a cost-based rate approved by the commission.

These calculations are effective for the funding year 2024, the commission said. “Reinstating these rules promotes administrative efficiency and protects the Fund while we consider long-term solutions,” the commission said.

The new rules are in response to petitions from a number of organizations, including Alaska Communications; the North Carolina Telehealth Network Association and Southern Ohio Health Care Network; trade association USTelecom; and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

“The FCC listened to many of our suggestions, and we are especially pleased that the Commission extended the use of existing rates for an additional year to provide applicants more certainty,” John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the SHLB Coalition, said in a statement.

Comment on automating rate calculation

The commission is launching a comment period to develop an automated process to calculate those rural rates by having the website of the Universal Service Administrative Company – which manages programs of the FCC – “auto-generate the rural rate after the health care and/or service provider selects sites that are in the same rural area” as the health care provider.

The commission is asking questions including whether this new system would alleviate administrative burdens, whether there are disadvantages to automating the rate, and whether there should be a challenge process outside of the normal appeals process.

The Telecom Program is part of the FCC’s Rural Health Care program that is intended to reduce the cost of telehealth broadband and telecom services to eligible healthcare providers.

Support for satellite services

The commission is also proposing that a cap on Telecom Program funding for satellite services be reinstated. In the 2019 order, a spending cap on satellite services was lifted because the commission determined that costs for satellite services were decreasing as there were on-the-ground services to be determined by the database.

But the FCC said costs for satellite services to health care service providers has progressively increased from 2020 to last year.

“This steady growth in demand for satellite services appears to demonstrate the need to reinstitute the satellite funding cap,” the commission said. “Without the constraints on support for satellite services imposed by the Rates Database, it appears that commitments for satellite services could increase to an unsustainable level.”

Soon-to-be health care providers funding eligibility

The FCC also responded to a SHLB request that future health care provider be eligible for Rural Health Care subsidies even though they aren’t established yet.

The commission is asking for comment on a proposal to amend the RHC program to conditionally approve “entities that are not yet but will become eligible health care providers in the near future to begin receiving” such program funding “shortly after they become eligible.”

Comments on the proposals are due 30 days after it is put in the Federal Register.

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Digital Inclusion

Broadband Breakfast Interview With Michael Baker’s Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel

Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the bipartisan infrastructure law.

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Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment grant program under the bipartisan infrastructure law.

In this interview with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, Michael Baker International Broadband Planning Consultants Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel go into detail about the role of Digital Equity Act plans in state broadband programs.

Michael Baker International, a leading provider of engineering and consulting services, including geospatial, design, planning, architectural, environmental, construction and program management, has been solving the world’s most complex challenges for over 80 years.

Its legacy of expertise, experience, innovation and integrity is proving essential in helping numerous federal, state and local navigate their broadband programs with the goal of solving the Digital Divide.

The broadband team at Michael Baker is filling a need that has existed since the internet became publicly available. Essentially, Internet Service Providers have historically made expansions to new areas based on profitability, not actual need. And pricing has been determined by market competition without real concern for those who cannot afford service.

In the video interview, Snerling and Garfinkel discuss how, with Michael Baker’s help, the federal government is encourage more equitable internet expansion through specific programs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The company guides clients to incorporate all considerations, not just profitability, into the project: Compliance with new policies, societal impact metrics and sustainability plans are baked into the Michael Baker consultant solution so that, over time, these projects will have a tremendous positive impact.

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