The Divide: Shirley Bloomfield on bridging the 'rural-rural' divide
On this episode of The Divide, we're joined by Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association: a trade association representing 850 telecommunications companies serving rural and small-town America.
Bloomfield shares some of the main challenges faced by providers that NTCA represents when it comes to both deployment and network maintenance – and emphasizes the need for federal funds for the latter.
"We're going to have an infusion of so much money to build these rural networks. Do not waste your opportunity by not also thinking about sustaining those networks," she said.
That job will fall largely to the FCC, through Universal Service Fund (USF) reform. The Biden administration's infrastructure law tasks the FCC with revamping the program, which has been used since 1997 to support broadband builds in rural areas and services for low-income households. Up for debate is how to fund the program, which has relied on telecom companies collecting fees from customers.
"The FCC needs to move on universal service contribution reform," said Bloomfield. "If there's a chairperson who I think has the knowledge base to do it, it would be Chairwoman Rosenworcel."
Finally, on the fiber vs. tech-neutral debate, Bloomfield says NTCA strongly favors funding fiber for rural communities. "There's some people who will say, 'oh, you know what, those poor rural Americans ... we just need to get something up for them.' And I would say you are relegating them to second-class service right out of the box. Don't do that."
— Nicole Ferraro, site editor, Broadband World News; senior editor, global broadband coverage, Light Reading. Host of "The Divide" on the Light Reading Podcast.
Here's where you can find episode links for 'The Divide,' Light Reading's podcast series featuring conversations with broadband providers and policymakers working to close the digital divide.
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