Rural telecoms need USF subsidies, industry advocates warn

Organizations representing telecoms operating in rural areas launched a program meant to raise awareness in Congress that they could lose $1 billion in federal subsidies critical to bringing broadband into their areas if certain cuts to the Universal Service Fund (USF) are approved.

The National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA), the Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies (OPASTCO) and the Western Telecommunications Alliance (WTA), along with U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) and U.S. Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE), are using advertising and social media to highlight potential consequences of rule changes being considered.

A particular bone of contention is House Republicans' proposal to take $1 billion from the USF and apply it toward deficit reduction, something the associations said in a release amounted to "a new, hidden tax on consumers."

A campaign website, saveruralbroadband.org, was launched along with Facebook and Twitter pages.

Meantime, the challenge of bringing broadband to rural America is moving toward a front-of-mind position for many legislators. A Silver City Sun-News opinion piece by Paul Gutierrez, executive director of the New Mexico Association of Counties, speculated that the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile could mean good things for rural areas waiting for adequate broadband coverage.

"As it stands now, the AT&T coverage area for its 4th generation technology is largely confined to major cities, such as ones like Albuquerque and Santa Fe. But if the merger goes through, AT&T has pledged to provide broadband access to the vast majority of rural communities across the country," Gutierrez wrote.

For more:
- see the NTCA news release
- this related Knoxville News article
- and this Silver City Sun-News op-ed

Related articles:
Senators Kerry, Warner want USF to focus on broadband expansion
NTCA gets $6M in RUS funds reinstated into FY2012 budget
FairPoint extends its Vermont broadband reach, but is it enough to satisfy customers?

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