29 Winter 2019 RURAL TELECOM
looking to Washington, D.C., for
stability and predictability might
want to cast his or her gaze else-
where. Yet telecom services simply cannot be provided in
many deeply rural areas without a sound regulatory foundation
and, in some cases, financial support to make the busi-
ness case for investment and ongoing opera-
tion. NTCA–The Rural broadband
Association has therefore focused its
efforts on trying to shore up that regulatory foundation across
a wide range of policy priorities.
As we enter 2019, the rural telecom industry stands on the cusp of obtaining
levels of regulatory certainty not seen for more than a decade—although, as
discussed below, these changes still offer both promise and challenge for
small operators in rural America.
High-Cost Universal Service
NTCA’s membership consists of providers that share a common rural telephony heritage but have evolved to reflect the diversity of challenges they face
and opportunities before them. Of course, one common thread today is that all
NTCA telco members provide broadband in deeply rural areas—and from a regulatory perspective, this translates into a common need for sufficient and predictable federal Universal Service Fund (USF) support.
No governmental “broadband program” has a better track record in rural
America than USF (or, as it has been rebranded, the Connect America Fund).
To be sure, financing is essential as well, and the Rural Utilities Service (RUS)
has long been critical in lending for the construction of networks in rural areas.
but, without USF in the first instance, the economics of building in and serving
many rural areas simply would not work, regardless of whether capital is otherwise available. 32
The long Path
by MIChAEL ROMAnO l