Leaders of Iowa’s rural telecommunication companies are sounding off about a plan that would shift money away from a federal fund that benefits broadband service. The Federal Communications Commission wants to move more than $15-billion away from the Universal Service Fund, a small surcharge that helps subsidize phone service to high-cost rural areas.
Chuck Deisbeck, CEO of Western Iowa Networks — based in Breda, says the plan would deal a blow to rural economic development.
Deisbeck says, “The FCC needs to understand that if they don’t move forward with some of the rules that we have asked for, they’re going to fail to advance broadband in rural America, they’re going to fail to promote jobs, and that’s going to have a huge economic impact on the entire country.”
If the FCC votes this week to move the money from the Universal Service Fund, or USF, Deisbeck says phone and internet rates in Iowa will continue to rise. He says studies show the benchmark rates will significantly jump $30-50 per month. Diesbeck says doing away with the money from the USF will mean the rural phone companies will have trouble maintaining and upgrading their current networks.
Deisbeck says many people in the rural U.S. depend on broadband services and shifting money away from the fund would have a great impact.
“What’s really scary is when the FCC thinks of Des Moines and Ames and Iowa City as rural,” he says. “That’s not what we consider rural. If they think those areas are rural, then what do they think about the real rural areas in Iowa?”
He says farming operations and telecommuters are two of the biggest users of broadband in rural America, and the FCC doesn’t understand what rural Iowa is like. Tom Conry is the general manager of the Farmers Mutual Cooperative Telephone Company of Harlan. Conry says a national wireless broadband plan, like the FCC is proposing, would heavily rely on infrastructure serviced by rural telephone companies.
Conry says the FCC believes wireless broadband is the end-all solution, but cell towers and wireless connection points wouldn’t have a broadband connection if it wasn’t for the fiber provided and serviced by the rural companies. Deisbeck and Conry are encouraging people to go to the website “thegreatdisconnect.org” and contact their local legislator by clicking on the “Take Action” button.
By Bob Fisher, KRIB, Mason City