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Trade Group for Independent Broadband Providers Closes Doors After 27 Years of Advocacy

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Photo of Genny Morelli courtesy the former ITTA

WASHINGTON, February 3, 2020 – ITTA, which called itself “the voice of America’s broadband providers,” closed on Friday due to financial obstacles after over 25 years of advocating for wireline communications.

ITTA – which was originally known as the Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance – released a statement on January 15  stating that “financial constraints in the wireline service provider sector have presented insurmountable challenges.”

It has been reported that CenturyLink and Consolidated, among its bigger members, told the association they wouldn’t renew membership for 2020.

Since ITTA was founded in 1993, it was “a consistent and powerful voice for the needs of wireline companies and their customers before the Federal Communications Commission, other federal agencies, and Congress,” according to the association’s statement.

“With its lean structure, ITTA has been able to introduce innovative policy reforms and respond quickly to policy proposals as the telecom industry continues to modernize and evolve,” said ITTA President Genny Morelli.

ITTA was particularly known for advocating for the Alternative Connect America Cost Model. ITTA Vice Chairman Drew Petersen said ITTA was “the foremost advocate at the FCC for adoption and implementation of the ACAM program.”

ACAM provides $65.7 million in broadband deployment support for areas that do not have speeds of 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps) download/upload.

Rural carriers have to meet a series of requirements and accomplish buildout milestones through 2028 in 43 states.

In an FCC press release from April, the FCC said 186 companies were participating in ACAM and had agreed to serve “106,365 homes and small businesses that would otherwise only received slower 10/1 Mbps service.”

The FCC said “carriers must deploy 25/3 Mbps service to 40 percent of locations by the end of 2022, and increase deployment by 10 percent annually until buildout is complete at the end of 2028.”

In a phone interview with ITTA Treasurer Trey Judy, Judy said that rural providers need access to fiber infrastructure and fiber deployment.

Judy lamented that ITTA’s “unique voice will be missed.”

Among the organizations continuing to advocate on behalf of wireline providers include NTCA–The Rural Broadband, US Telecom–The Broadband Association, and WTA–Advocates for Rural Broadband.

Adrienne Patton was a Reporter for Broadband Breakfast. She studied English rhetoric and writing at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. She grew up in a household of journalists in South Florida. Her father, the late Robes Patton, was a sports writer for the Sun-Sentinel who covered the Miami Heat, and is for whom the press lounge in the American Airlines Arena is named.

Rural

Render Networks and Irby Ahead of Schedule on Arkansas Fiber Build

The build is also underbudget, they said.

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Render CEO Sam Pratt

WASHINGTON, December 6, 2021 – Irby and Render Networks are set to deliver fiber to rural Arkansans under budget and ahead of schedule as part of Craighead Electric Cooperative Corporation’s effort to connect northeast Arkansas.

On Nov. 24, Render Networks and Irby announced that they are two years ahead of where they expected to be in the project, and are 20 percent under budget.

“At a time when our industry is faced with chronic shortages and costly overruns, we are confidently defying project norms and delivering faster with less resources,” said Irby Vice President of Technology and Communication Geff Smith. “We needed tools that would help us cut through the complexity, and Render delivered the network design into manageable tasks but more importantly gave us the visibility to make informed decisions on the infrastructure whilst continuing to construct in an agile manner.”

Irby serves as the infrastructure distributor in the partnership, while Render’s platform runs a mobile, geographic information system that allows Irby to manage jobs and data to deliver network infrastructure and buildouts. Render is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

As part of the project, more than 3,500 miles of fiberoptic cable have been laid, and more than 10,000 locations have been connected, with an additional 5,000 planned.

“These kinds of rollouts are the great equalizer for underserved rural communities,” said Render CEO Sam Pratt. “We’re delighted that the Render platform and knowhow helped enable CECC, Irby and the construction contractor D&H Contracting to streamline deployment planning, work allocation, oversight and administration – and ultimately deliver much needed connectivity to an underserved community of CECC members earlier than I think anyone thought possible.”

“We knew the need for broadband in our member communities was great so we wanted to do everything we could to accelerate the construction of our fiber network,” said chief operating officer of CECC Jeremiah Sloan.

“We’re now well positioned to not only meet the broadband needs of our members but also continue to deliver safe, reliable, and affordable power by leveraging our fiber network,” he added. “It would have been impossible to realize these achievements without Render’s revolutionary approach to construction management and a strong technology and material partnership with Irby Utilities.”

Render Networks is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Universal Service

Advocates Call for Universal Service Fund to Include Broadband Revenues

Letter cites Carol Mattey report, which recommends broadening the base.

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Carol Mattey of Mattey Consulting LLC

WASHINGTON, November 29, 2021 – A broad swath of organizations on Monday is calling for policymakers in Washington to reform and stabilize the Universal Service Fund by broadening its funding base to include broadband revenues.

The Universal Service Fund, which supplies the nation’s low-income and rural and remote communities with basic telecommunications services, currently relies on voice service revenues, which has been a dwindling for years. Debate has emerged about how the fund can be stabilized, with some asking for the money to come from a congressional budget item and others asking for it to come from broadband revenues.

The latter is being recommended by over 254 organizations, including public interest groups, anchor institutions, trade associations and broadband service providers, in a Monday call to action letter to policymakers in Washington. The letter cites a September report by Carol Mattey, a former deputy chief of the Federal Communications Commission, which said broadband revenues should be incorporated into the USF base of money to draw upon.

“Unfortunately, this universal service system is in danger of collapse because the mechanism that funds it has not been updated since it was adopted nearly 25 years ago,” the letter said. The USF program is a relic from 1997 and a product of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The letter features organizations including Public Knowledge, the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition, Gigabit Libraries Network, California Emerging Technology Fund, and a number of telecoms and telecom associations and anchor institutions from over a dozen states.

The contribution percent – the percent providers must pay of their voice revenues – has reached an all-time high in the second quarter this year, at 33.4 percent in the second quarter this year, and decreased slightly after that. Mattey and the signatories, however, warn that the contribution could soar as high as 40 percent in the coming years, as the fund operates at around $10 billion annually.

Citing the Mattey report, the letter suggests that including broadband revenues into the fund would reduce the USF fee to less than 4 percent, adding it would not stunt broadband adoption or retention, as fees are often passed down to customers.

“Our recommendation would reduce regulatory uncertainty, would better reflect evolving uses of services, would be straightforward to administer, and would be more equitable and nondiscriminatory for residential and business consumers than the current system,” the letter said.

“Moreover, the Federal Communications Commission could make this change under its existing authority without requiring new legislation,” the letter added, as Mattey and Greg Guice, Public Knowledge director of government affairs, said at a conference recently.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr suggested earlier this year that Big Tech companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook should contribute to the fund because they benefit from broadband services. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel called the idea “intriguing,” while FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington also raised the idea at an event in September.

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Universal Service

Experts Urge FCC Unilaterally Broaden Revenue Base of Universal Service Fund

Consultants say the Federal Communications Commission has the authority to do so.

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Carol Mattey and Greg Guice at INCOMPAS event on October 25.

WASHINGTON, November 3, 2021 – Telecommunications experts are recommending that the Federal Communications Commission unilaterally expand the revenue base of the Universal Service Fund to include broadband revenues, rather than waiting on Congress to do so.

Advocates such as Public Knowledge Director of Government Affairs Greg Guice cite congressional infighting over the bipartisan infrastructure bill as an example of inefficiency in the legislature that would stall the passage of urgent reform for the USF, a fund that helps deliver basic telecommunications services to low-income Americans and those in remote regions.

Telecommunications policy experts said at the INCOMPAS Show in Las Vegas October 25, on which Guice was a panelist, that it is essential that the USF force broadband revenues into the pool of funds, as the fund’s overreliance on voice revenues – even as those revenues decline – is putting a strain on the programs.

Guice and Carol Mattey, principal of Mattey Consulting LLC and former deputy chief of the FCC, told Broadband Breakfast Tuesday that the agency has the jurisdiction to broaden the base of the contribution to the USF under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 if it is in the public interest.

“My view is the FCC has the statutory authority to assess broadband internet access service,” said Mattey in an email. “Under existing law — specifically, section 254(d) of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 —  the FCC has the statutory authority to require any ‘providers of interstate telecommunications’ to contribute to the universal service fund if the public interest warrants.

“The FCC has classified broadband internet access service as an information service,” she added. “Under the ’96 Act, the definition of an information service is a service that offers the capability to generate, acquire, store, transform, etc. etc. information ‘via telecommunications.’”

Recommendations for reform

Mattey published a report in September that laid out the case for the fund to be expanded to incorporate a broadband range of money sources, including broadband.

And there has been no shortage of recommendations to help the fund prosper. Earlier this year, a panel of experts debated the merits of having Congress wholly assume contributions to the fund from general tax dollars, while others suggested that recommendation would destabilize the fund because it would swing with the political winds. Those people, instead, focused on simply broadening the base to include other sources, including broadband.

More recently, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr penned an op-ed in Newsweek recommending the fund include contributions from Big Tech because that industry benefits from broadband. It was a suggestion that FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel called “intriguing.”

But while Guice and Mattey argue for the FCC to step in and make changes unilaterally, in a one-on-one interview with the Internet Innovation Alliance in September, FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington – in pontificating about Carr’s recommendation for Big Tech contributions – said he didn’t want to get ahead of Congress on the matter, suggesting a wait and see approach.

USF in need of change

Over the last two decades, the USF has seen the revenues subject to its assessment decline by 63%. This money goes to support four main programs: high cost support for rural areas, Lifeline for low income areas, the E-rate program for schools and libraries as well as a rural healthcare support program.

This year, the contribution percentage relative to revenues hit an all time high.

The panel at the INCOMPAS show pinpointed the major factor behind declining USF revenues as decreases in mobile service revenues due to providers setting lower mobile rates. These decreases come despite continual increases in communications revenues overall.

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