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Congressional Members Look to Work with FCC on CAF II

Congressional Members Look to Work with FCC on CAF II

The FCC was asked by more than 40 Congress members to allow service providers to install high-speed broadband connections to isolated communities under the Connect America Funding II (CAF II) program. This request was a joint effort by the members of both Republican and Democratic parties. The CAF II is the last stage of FCC’s Universal Service Fund (USF) modification, and the rules established will determine the fate of millions of rural Americans receiving broadband service.

This program will provide fiber-fed broadband services or a fiber-to-the-node (FTTN) structure that incorporates ADSL2+ or VDSL2 with direction to transport services to homes and businesses over existing copper connections. A prime challenge lawmakers and future beneficiaries of this program’s funds is the FCC’s plans to redefine the starting point of broadband from 4 to 10 Mbps. The fear is lack of time to construct network facilities that can hold these speeds.

“While we think this is a good idea, we are concerned that if the Commission more than doubles the speed requirements without allowing the appropriate level of flexibility in other elements of CAF II, the program’s mission could be endangered,” wrote 14 members of the Congressional Black Caucus in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “To address this concern, the Commission may want to consider expanding the build-out to 10 years to allow adequate time for the construction of the higher-capacity network.” Caucus members also believe the 10 Mbps regulation should be mandatory for all providers serving each market under the program.

CenturyLink agrees with the Congressional Black Caucus. “Originally, the plan under Commissioner Genachowski called for five years with 4 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up, but Wheeler came in and said 4/1 is not going to cut it so he changed it to 10 Mbps,” said David Bartlett, VP of Federal Legislative Affairs for CenturyLink, in an interview with FierceTelecom. “We have no problem with 10 Mbps as long as we get additional time to do it and 10 years would allow us to do that.” In addition, CenturyLink stated the FCC needs to fix the partial census block, in which a carrier or person serving a census block only have to provide to a single person or household, leaving the remainder of the census block ineligible for support.

Providers that receive CAF II funds would organize FTTN-based network infrastructure similar to one in large cities and towns to execute the 10 Mbps speeds. “To get these kinds of speeds and really future proof things to make things scalable in the future because even 10 Mbps will be obsolete in a few years, this is a fiber build plan,” said Bartlett. “In order to build out this concentric ring from your more dense areas and go into remote areas, it becomes more expensive to trench fiber or go aerial, it’s more expensive and the returns on your investments are lower because the densities are much lower.” GeoTel Communications’ fiber network maps and other fiber maps can be used to increase rural connectivity by identifying and analyzing existing fiber infrastructure. If interested in obtaining fiber maps, contact GeoTel Communications at (800) 277-2172.

Valerie Stephen