Defining down the definition of internet ‘service’ will hurt rural economy
As was once the case with phone service, a strong standard should be enforced for internet.

By Rob Souza; Special to the Press Herald
NEW GLOUCESTER — We are writing to further the discussion and support the opinion of the Portland Press Herald Editorial Board (Oct. 2) regarding the Federal Communications Commission and that panel’s proposal to redefine the minimum internet service level. We agree that if the FCC redefines downward “adequate” service, rural Americans will lose out and be left further behind economically, educationally and in terms of quality of life.

In the late 1800s, at the dawn of the telephone industry, the larger established telephone companies couldn’t make a viable business case to serve low-density rural areas, so they didn’t. Understanding the importance of communication to their enterprises, local farmers and businessmen leveraged their personal resources to build their own rural phone networks. All of the Otelco/OTT Communications companies originated that way.

Today is no different: Instead of phone service to rural areas, it’s internet via fiber to the premises that we struggle to deliver to those rural communities. If you listen to the FCC, you might think that other technologies like mobile wireless could serve in place of fiber optics. To a degree, they can – if the definition of “served” is reduced.

The current FCC standard is a download speed of 25 megabits per second and an upload speed of 3 Mbps. Mobile signals can theoretically reach those speeds – assuming there’s a mobile carrier that has infrastructure in these rural areas capable of delivering high-speed service – and therein lies the problem. As the Press Herald editorial noted, Verizon is abandoning thousands of rural customers around the country, including hundreds in Maine, because they claim it is too costly to provide service in rural areas.

If legacy phone companies like ours – or, for that matter, the FCC – were allowed to arbitrarily reduce the standard of service we deliver, where might those costly-to-serve rural residents be today? From our perspective, the combination of our dedication to the communities we serve, FCC oversight and the Universal Service Fund (which was created to ensure that all Americans have access to a basic phone line) has kept rural America from falling behind in communications.

Today, communication equates to internet connectivity. Where we’re concerned, the best way to provide connectivity is through fiber optics. It’s reliable, it’s scalable and it exceeds the current FCC definition of served – making it futureproof. Even if the FCC reduces the definition of “served,” we’ll continue to deploy fiber to the degree that finances permit; it’s simply the right way to do business in the best interest of our customers.

The problem is that with a reduction in internet speed requirements, others may choose to deploy technologies that will need to be replaced in the near future as the demand for internet speed increases – and it increases daily.

With a limited Universal Service Fund available to assist in the costly deployment of high-speed internet infrastructure, reducing the minimum requirements for internet delivery would allow the allocation of funds for technology that is barely serviceable now, and will sure to be outdated in the next few years.

According to the FCC website, the mission of the commission is to regulate interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, and its work is guided by the following strategic goals:

  • Promoting economic growth and national leadership.
  • Protecting public interest goals.
  • Making networks work for everyone.Promoting operational excellence.

As the Press Herald editorial points out, “True high-speed internet is a necessity for an economy driven by the latest technology. The areas that lack it are already in trouble and are falling further behind, and that won’t stop unless the government does something more than change a definition.” Otelco couldn’t agree more.

ABOUT OTELCO

Otelco Inc. provides wireline telecommunications services in Alabama, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, Vermont and West Virginia.  The Company’s services include local and long distance telephone, digital high-speed data lines, transport services, network access, cable television and other related services.  With approximately 99,000 voice and data access lines, which are collectively referred to as access line equivalents, Otelco is among the top 25 largest local exchange carriers in the United States based on number of access lines.  Otelco operates eleven incumbent telephone companies serving rural markets, or rural local exchange carriers.  It also provides competitive retail and wholesale communications services and technology consulting, managed services and private/hybrid cloud hosting services through several subsidiaries.  For more information, visit the Company’s website at www.OtelcoInc.com.

FORWARD LOOKING STATEMENTS

Statements in this press release that are not statements of historical or current fact constitute forward-looking statements.  Such forward-looking statements involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties, and other unknown factors that could cause the actual results of the Company to be materially different from the historical results, or from any future results expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements.  In addition to statements, which explicitly describe such risks and uncertainties, readers are urged to consider statements labeled with the terms “believes”, “belief”, “expects,” “intends,” “anticipates,” “plans”, or similar terms to be uncertain and forward-looking.  The forward-looking statements contained herein are also subject generally to other risks and uncertainties that are described from time to time in the Company’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.