Washington report: issues with broad support
The August recess is in full swing and the halls of Congress will be quiet until after Labor Day. While it may be slow on Capitol Hill, the FCC has continued its heavy workload, including several issues of importance to rural Americans. It is hard to believe but the 2020 campaign trail is heating up and there has been a significant focus on rural connectivity.
2020 rural broadband proposals
The current divisiveness of politics aside, the campaign season brings positive attention to the importance of connectivity for rural America and rural broadband funding. The need for rural broadband is unquestionably a bipartisan issue, but on the campaign trail most attention has been on the candidates in the crowded Democratic primary for the presidential nomination as they have been crisscrossing the country to espouse their ideas, including for rural broadband.
Recently, three candidates (Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg) separately released plans to fund rural broadband with anywhere from $60 to $85 billion. Several other candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), have previously released their ideas to help bring broadband to rural America. While these are all just candidate proposals, the importance is that significant attention is being given to the interests of rural America and NECA members.
Time for better broadband maps
To properly distribute future funding for rural broadband, whether under the current or a future administration, all parties have agreed better mapping of broadband availability and deployment is needed. An oft-repeated phrase on this issue has been “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” There have been numerous hearings over the past several years to address this, but pressure from Congress really picked up quite a bit this year with further hearings, Congressional letters to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and at least six separate bills directly focused on broadband mapping.
One of these bills, the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act, advanced through the Senate Commerce Committee just before the August recess. The FCC took heed of these Congressional concerns and, with the adoption of the Digital Opportunity Data Collection Report and Order and FNPRM, it initiated a process to collect the granular data needed to develop more accurate maps as well as get input on how to enhance the data collection. Accurate maps may be available further down the line, but this certainly appears to be a step in the right direction.
Another issue with near universal bipartisan support is the need to do something about robocalls. As with broadband mapping there have been numerous hearings, letters and bills in Congress about this issue. In fact, both chambers have passed bills aimed to fight the robocall problem: the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (Senate) and the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act (House). Leaders have expressed optimism a conference committee will be able to hash out the differences between the bills and have something to submit to the president for his signature in the fall.
Meanwhile, the FCC has remained active on this issue with the adoption of a declaratory ruling earlier this summer allowing carriers to block robocalls through the SHAKEN/STIR framework to properly authenticate a caller’s ID. Further, it adopted an NPRM requiring carriers to implement SHAKEN/STIR if major carriers have not done so by the end of the year. The FCC held a SHAKEN/STIR robocall summit in July where rural industry association representatives were on hand to highlight the challenges small rural providers currently face or will face in efforts to deploy SHAKEN/STIR.
What’s on tap?
As the year winds down and the 2020 election gets closer, the focus from a telecom perspective in Congress will likely remain centered on those issues having broad ranging support. There will be continued follow-up on broadband funding, mapping and robocalls.