Iowa’s independent telephone companies have mounted a campaign to express concern about FCC changes they say will impact the cost of broadband internet service to rural areas of the state. The new rules change the way the independent companies are paid for the use of their lines.
Debra Lucht, the general manager of Minburn Communications in Minburn, says customers will see the changes on their bills. “The residential customers are looking at 50 cents per month, per access line being added to their bill per year…and then businesses are looking at a dollar per access line over the next three years. And so, that’s just one of the charges we’re looking at affecting our end user customer,” Lucht says.
The FCC changes eliminate the access fees companies collect from other carriers that use their networks, and Lucht says that will impact the rates charged for internet usage. “Our customers are accustomed to paying based on speed. And they pay a set amount per month for unlimited usage that ranges from 35 to 65 dollars for that usage, and it doesn’t matter how much they download, they pay that flat fee. As we move forward, because of the demands on that broadband, our companies may have to look at doing something similar to what the wireless companies are doing,” according to Lucht.
The wireless companies charge phone users based on the amount of data they use, that’s what could happen to rural broadband customers.
“You’re looking at a cap of like 60 dollars per month for eight gig. And if you go over that, it’s 10 dollars per gig,” Lucht explains. “So if you refer that back to what our customer usage is, our customers if they had to pay based on that pricing structure, they would have to pay about a thousand dollars per month for that bandwidth that they are using for that same pricing structure.”
Don Jennings with Partner Communications in Gilman, says rural customers use the broadband for business, farming and entertainment, and that is why their usage is so high. Jennings says the independent telephone companies support improving the networks and advancing as broadband use changes.
But he says the current plan creates concerns. “We feel like the changes that are being proposed are only part of what we have proposed and…in the short term we’ll probably survive it, but in the long term it’s going to decrease the amount of broadband that’s going to be deployed in the rural areas,” Jennings says.
Lucht, Jennings and other independent telephone companies are asking customers to speak out on the issue via the Iowa Linked Up website.
“If you would just go to that site, www.iowalinkedup.org, there’s information there that you can look through. There’s some suggested letter formats that you can write to your congressman. And there’s an ongoing blog where you can get more information on the current discussions going on,” Jennings says.
Jennings says the independent telephone companies have put a lot of money into extending the broadband access to rural areas and the changes raise questions about how they can continue to do that at a reasonable cost.