Bless Their Hearts

General Manager Tom Young weighed in at the Annual Meeting on how the proposed National Broadband Plan and accompanying changes to the Universal Service Plan may impact Kingdom Telephone and its customers. An excerpt from his speech follows.

“Speaking of challenges, our industry is about to face what I believe is the most significant challenge we have ever faced.  In my opinion, which is shared by most others in the industry, this challenge dwarfs the Telecommunications Act of 1996.  As you know, small rural companies like Kingdom exist because some futuristic thinking people wanted to have telephone service comparable to their city dwelling friends.  The problem was that the large companies were only interested in serving the higher populated cities and towns, leaving farmers and other rural folks behind as have-nots.

But you all know that story.  If the current FCC has their way, this will again become the norm.  Now, I know that I have been talking about this to you for a long time.  But I’m here to tell you today that the first shots have been fired, and we have a lot of work to do to maintain the funds we need to ensure that we are able to provide good quality voice and broadband to our shareholders.

The FCC loaded their gun when they came out last November with the National Broadband Plan.  This Plan was the FCC’s vision on how they would get broadband to the unserved areas of the United States.  One of the many things we didn’t like at first glance was their plan for what we in the Telecom Industry like to call the “Rural Divide”, where they laid out their goal of providing 100MB broadband for the cities and 4MB for rural consumers.  The last time that I looked at the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which is the law of the land, it provided for comparable services at comparable prices for rural residents.

Now, before I go on, I want to tell you a little story.  I have a telco manager friend from Tennessee who is a true southern gentleman.  When Bill speaks and has to talk about people who attack our industry instead of saying something bad about them or calling them names, he says that his momma taught him to bless their hearts. Well, while I’m far from a southern gentleman and not nearly as eloquent a speaker as Bill, I thought today I would use my friend’s method so that you won’t misunderstand my feelings.

FCC Chairman Julius Genecowski, bless his heart, assured us that the National Broadband Plan  was only a plan, that our input was welcomed, and our expertise was needed to forge a final rule.  Cool, I thought, if we can work together with open minds, we can make this work.  WRONG!  Remember, we have been talking to the FCC, bless their hearts, since last November, when the plan hit the street, filing comments, going to Washington, weighing in with our consultants and associations, and at no small price, I might add.

The first shot was fired about three weeks ago when the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking came out, and it appears that everything that we said to the FCC fell on deaf ears.  They believe that they have a mandate to convert the Universal Service Fund, the dollars that we get because we are willing to serve high cost areas, and divert them to what they have named the Connect America Fund to distribute to certain large companies, bless their hearts, who have failed to provide broadband to their customers, even though they promised to do so.

We understand that America needs universal broadband and have no problem with re-purposing the Universal Service Fund from voice to broadband. We realize that in some cases our USF draw may need to be reduced.  Totally OK with that.  But without some kind of support, providing advanced services in rural areas like Kingdom serves would, I fear, cost more than most people can afford.  Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the FCC’s vision of broadband for everyone?  I think so, and a lot of people a lot smarter than me think so too.

Make no mistake, we will continue to fight for quality broadband at a reasonable price for rural consumers.  The FCC has this issue on the fast track and intends complete this plan in this calendar year, so we will be busy and we will be asking for your help to write letters and contact your elected representatives.”


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