A top priority for our nation’s broadband providers is connecting Americans regardless of zip code. Our members are stepping up and stepping in to deploy the broadband needed to connect rural customers to digital opportunity. That’s why we appreciate new approaches to bringing people online and connecting them to new opportunities. Pilot programs like the Rural Utilities Service’s broadband deployment program and the FCC’s Connected Care telehealth program can be catalysts for thinking differently about our broadband challenges.
But part of connecting new communities means ensuring federal programs are using dollars efficiently in line with their scope. USTelecom’s comments filed in response to the RUS and FCC pilot proposals underscore these priorities.
Our number one priority for the Rural Utilities Service Pilot Program should be avoiding the duplicative use of scarce federal funds and maximizing the number of connections the program can make. Close coordination between RUS and other agencies and programs that seek to connect the unserved—like NTIA and the FCC— can ensure the Pilot is tailored to focusing on areas that are not the targets of other federal programs and, thereby, avoid “overbuilding.” We also recommend RUS prioritize last mile grants in the Pilot, and that the program be technology and entity neutral to maximize efficient participation.
A similar efficiency also is essential to the FCC’s proposed “Connected Care Pilot Program” targeted to bringing the promises of telehealth to low-income and veteran Americans. While USTelecom supports the spirit, size and duration of the program, we recommend the Commission narrow the goals of the Pilot. The program’s goals—as outlined in the Notice— are overly-broad for a Pilot. By narrowing the program’s goals, the FCC can ensure the Connected Care Pilot not duplicate existing—and successful—federal programs.
USTelecom members are bringing impactful connections to Americans across the country. The Rural Utilities Service and the FCC certainly have honorable goals to connecting the unserved and expanding the use of telehealth services. But these federal programs cannot exist in a vacuum. Through close federal coordination and efficient use of funds, these unique programs can complement— not duplicate—the pursuit of connectivity to the benefit of many rural Americans.