Last year proved to be a watershed year for policymaker interest in rural broadband. Perhaps spurred in part by better understanding among decision-makers of broadband’s role in economic development— to say nothing of consumers increasingly calling on elected officials to do
something to improve service—and in part by the possibility of an administration infra-
structure initiative, rural broadband was a featured topic for numerous congressional
hearings and panel discussions in Washington, D.C., in 2017. Now that public officials
increasingly agree on the importance of widespread access to robust broadband, the hard part
is finding agreement on the best path toward securing that access over the long term.
NTCA was pleased to again work with dozens of members of Congress to petition the FCC last
year to ensure that Universal Service Fund (USF) reforms will achieve the Communications Act
principle of reasonably comparable services and rates between urban and rural areas, even
going a step further to specifically highlight the funding shortfalls in the high-cost USF pro-
gram and to demand near and long-term solutions. While reminding Congress to not lose
sight of the importance of high-cost USF, NTCA will continue working with representatives
and senators eager to lead on broadband deployment on other ideas to promote rural invest-
ment as we await action from the FCC on USF.
Over all this activity looms the 2018 midterm election—voters’ first opportunity to
express their view of the current administration in a federal election. Republicans are
desperately pursuing major legislative achievements to demonstrate that voters were
wise to put them in charge of the White House and both chambers of Congress. The
drive to pass an infrastructure bill and perhaps further changes to health care
laws in the wake of major tax reform legislation will dominate Capitol Hill in
2018, leaving little room for work on major telecom legislation.
However, smaller efforts to affect telecom law and policy, including some
initiated by NTCA, could move alone or as part of a larger, higher-profile bill.
Since Sen. Tim Johnson (D–S.D.) first introduced rural call completion legisla-
tion in March 2014 after collaborating with NTCA on the language,
Congress has never been closer to passing the
bill. The proposal aims to finally solve the
years-old rural call completion problem by
getting at the root cause—least cost route
providers that drop calls destined for rural
areas. The act would have least cost route
providers register with the FCC and abide
by basic call termination practices, and
originating carriers would be permitted
only to employ registered call routers.
The Senate and House have each
passed identical versions of the bill—
now titled the Improving Rural Call
Quality and Reliability Act and led by