OP-ED: The Broadband Battle Continues

Broadband is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity to provide timely information, news and to support the economy and well-being of all Americans. Broadband can assist in revitalizing rural America. This is more than a technology problem; without access to broadband, entire communities are increasingly left behind in today’s information-driven economy.

Unfortunately, despite significant efforts by the supervisors and administrator, Greene County’s proposal for the $475,000 project, funding amount may have been one of the lowest requested, was not approved. What may be of interest is CenturyLink’s role in the lack of broadband and a reliable communication system in Greene County.

The Federal Communication Commission, as part of the 1997 Universal Service Fund, establishes the Connect America Fund (CAF) in 2012, for the purpose of designing and expanding voice and broadband services for underserved areas, such as Greene County. CenturyLink has received multiple funding grants over the years to subsidize the cost of building new network infrastructure or performing network upgrades to provide voice and broadband service in areas where it is lacking. The (Federal) Universal Service Fund charge on resident’s telephone bills is the source of the funding for the CAF.

CAF is a multi-year program and the focus is on geographic areas that are clearly unserved. Providers (CenturyLink) must build out to 40% of the assigned homes and businesses in the areas won in a state within three years. Buildout must increase by 20% in each subsequent year, until complete buildout is reached at the end of the sixth year.

In a January 15, 2020 letter, CenturyLink’s Jeffrey S. Lanning, Vice President – Federal Regulatory Affairs, sent to Ms. Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary, Federal Communications Commission, he states:

“In August 2015, CenturyLink accepted Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II support to deploy broadband service to over one million locations in thirty-three states.”

However, later in the letter, Mr. Lanning attests:

“CenturyLink may not have reached the deployment milestone in other states… [specifically] “it may not have met the CAF Phase II eighty-percent interim deployment milestone in states. Those states are Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia [sic], Washington, and Wisconsin.”

In addition to previous years funding, between 2015 and 2018, CenturyLink has received $131,629,152 from the CAF II fund exclusively for use in Virginia (see table above).

As Mr. Lanning stated in his letter, “CenturyLink may not have reached the deployment milestone in other states…” OR for Greene County, even though we have been paying the taxes in our telephone bills for years!

Clearly, CenturyLink has failed in its commitment to commonwealth of Virginia; maybe it’s time for the Attorney General of Virginia to investigate. Recently, Denver Riggleman (R-Afton), Representative for Virginia’s 5th Congressional District, “applauded the Federal Communications Commission award of $27.1 million in rural broadband funding to five counties in southside Virginia.”

Maybe it’s also time for Mr. Riggleman to call on Congress to investigate CenturyLink’s behavior and non-compliance with its CAF contractual obligations. Simultaneously, Mr. Riggleman needs to actively work to secure funding for all of Greene County’s voice and broadband infrastructure needs to finally provide the services in compliance in the FCC’s Connect America Fund contract requirements.

Linda M. Copeland, R.N.

Stanardsville

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