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ACA Members Tell FCC of Hurdles in Deploying Broadband in Rural Areas at Agency's Workshop

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With participation from ACA members, the Federal Communications Commission on August 12 held a workshop on broadband deployment and technology issues in connection with the preparation of next year's National Broadband Plan mandated by Congress in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

James J. Bruder, Jr., CEO and Chairman of MetroCast Communications, who is also ACA's vice chairman, participated in an afternoon panel intended to explore the meaning of unserved or underserved with regard to broadband access and to what extent FCC action could alleviate technical and economic barriers. Gary W. Evans, President and CEO, Hiawatha Broadband Communications, Inc., also an ACA member, joined Bruder on the panel.

Under the economic stimulus law, the FCC is charged with creating a plan by Feb. 17, 2010 designed to ensure that everyone in the U.S. has access to broadband capability. The FCC also needs to create benchmarks for achieving that goal.

In an effort to create an open dialogue with the public and various stakeholders, the FCC decided to conduct 18 individual workshops held at FCC headquarters and broadcast live over the Internet. The workshop that included Bruder and Evans, which lasted about two hours, started with brief opening remarks from all nine panelists, followed by rounds of discussion guided by questions from FCC staff members.

In his remarks, Bruder outlined three of his proposals for improving broadband in unserved and underserved communities, including low-interest government loans that would be subordinate to existing credit facilities; middle-mile grants that would allow for the interconnection of isolated communities, perhaps in partnership with local communities; and expansion of the Universal Service Fund to include more providers than incumbent local telephone companies.

At the same time Congress required the FCC to prepare a National Broadband Plan, it also included $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funding to be distributed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Rural Utilities Service in the form of grants and loans and grant/loan combinations by the end of September 2010. Applications for the first round of funding are due at 5 p.m. ET on August 20 for any electronic applications that were pending as of 5 p.m. ET on August.

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