March 19, 2019
You wouldn’t know it from headlines, but the country recently achieved a remarkable and meaningful breakthrough in the quest to bring broadband to rural America.
Indeed, the recent success of the FCC’s first Connect America Fund (CAF) II program was almost entirely missing in last week’s Senate hearing on improving rural broadband. That’s too bad, because the CAF program is bringing access to millions of rural Americans today.
A new analysis by USTelecom shows broadband providers that accepted the FCC CAF II statewide commitments reported they overwhelmingly surpassed the total deployment target for the end of 2018.
This is a BIG DEAL.
The FCC’s CAF II Program Brings Broadband to Rural America
The 2015 CAF II program set in motion a vehicle for incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) to deploy high-speed services to over 3.6 million rural locations by the end of 2020—that’s enabling service to over 9 million Americans or roughly 4,000 Americans per day (or 120,000 Americans per month) over the life of the program. USTelecom members are doing yeoman’s work for rural America through this program, with AT&T, CenturyLink, Consolidated, Frontier and Windstream, responsible for over 97 percent of the total builds.
On March 1, these CAF II participants reported the exact latitude and longitude of each deployment done through 2018. Under FCC rules, providers were to have deployed to 60 percent of their CAF II targets—over 2.1 million locations serving approximately 5.25 million people—but our analysis shows that in aggregate carriers have exploded past this total, deploying to more than 10 percent over the required threshold for the year. As a result, approximately 525,000 rural Americans more than expected got an immediate on-ramp to the internet in 2018. While the 2018 results are still coming online, you can view previous years’ submissions on USAC’s Connect America Fund Map.
Detractors sometimes criticize the program as only requiring broadband providers to build to a minimum 10/1 Mbps speed, though that was considered aggressive for these very high cost areas when the program was designed in 2014.
The CAF II program is bringing access to millions of rural Americans today.
Mike Saperstein, VP Law & Policy
The program is not defined by its minimums, but rather its true impact because many will receive service with speeds of 25/3 Mbps and in some cases much higher. All enabled locations will be able to fully participate in 21st Century America, which was not the case for millions of Americans even a few years ago, thanks to the CAF II program.
The original CAF II program may not get much publicity, but a handful of carriers are quietly doing the hard work of broadband deployment and making a huge difference in connectivity across rural America.