Statement of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) for today's Senate hearing on "The Impact of Broadband Investments in Rural America"
Washington, DC, March 12, 2019 – Approximately 24 million Americans – many living in rural communities – lack adequate broadband access. Though hundreds of billions of dollars of private and public investment have flowed into U.S. networks since 2005, this stubborn rural gap remains. WISPA is pleased that witnesses at today’s hearing, which included WISPA member Justin Forde of Midcontinent Communications based in Sioux Falls, SD, recognize the need for federal subsidies to help bridge this gap, for accurate mapping to determine where subsidies are allocated, and for government agencies to avoid subsidizing broadband overbuilds. WISPA also appreciates witness statements acknowledging the importance of spectrum for quick and affordable broadband deployment in places where sparsely populated areas do not justify the investment in fiber.
“Our members bring the Internet to rural communities 24/7/365, building-out high-speed broadband services at about 1/7th of the capital cost of fiber alternatives,” said WISPA president, Claude Aiken. “Hard problems require smart policies, and we thank the Committee for holding today’s hearing and the witnesses for recognizing the contributions our members are making with spectrum. But access to more spectrum is needed. Without it, WISPs can’t operate. With spectrum comes a reduced need for subsidies, so long as the government spends subsidies wisely with marketplace solutions.”
Aiken continued, “Many WISPs continue to build in rural America without subsidies. But, if high-cost areas will continue to be subsidized, Congress should adopt fundamental changes to the USF and other subsidy programs to cost-effectively target funds to unserved Americans. Among other things, this means allocating resources for comprehensive, accurate and granular mapping without overly burdening small providers. It means conducting auctions that direct subsidies to truly unserved areas. It means coordination among federal agencies and state commissions to make sure we don’t undermine private investment.”
Taken as a whole, this policy focus would boost broadband deployment in rural and small-town areas. It would bring about precision agriculture applications, high-speed telemedicine services, educational opportunities, and a variety of consumer services, all on par with what their urban peers can obtain. Further, it would foster more robust innovation and competition among all broadband providers.
“WISPs play an important role in helping rural America truly benefit from broadband," added Aiken. "Congress could quickly improve this by releasing more spectrum, while also reforming our subsidy programs, fostering greater access to infrastructure, and keeping burdens on small companies low.”
WISPA is a membership-driven trade association that promotes the development, advancement and unity of the fixed wireless Internet service provider industry. WISPA has over 800 members that support WISPA’s advocacy, education and other collaborative industry initiatives. For more information, visit www.wispa.org.