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Greg Aldridge: Will FCC leave Kansas behind?

  • Published Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, at 12 a.m.

Last November, the Federal Communications Commission made a decision that will profoundly affect high-speed Internet service to households and businesses in rural south-central Kansas.

The FCC made modifications to the rural rules within the Universal Service Fund, a program designed in part to ensure that service is affordable to all Americans by helping rural telecommunications companies finance high-speed Internet networks.

As you might expect, it is very expensive to provide Internet service to the rural areas of the nation, especially those with 1.9 people per square mile, but KanOkla Networks has been doing just that. Thanks to support from the USF, we and other small, community-based telecommunications companies have made it possible for residents, small businesses, schools, libraries and local first responders to have robust phone and high-speed Internet services. These networks are also a part of the nationwide network used by long-distance and cellular companies.

But these regulatory reforms threaten future progress by slashing support for broadband deployment and even penalizing companies for telecommunications investments made years ago, ones that were previously encouraged and sometimes even required by the federal government.

In September 2009, KanOkla received a multimillion-dollar loan commitment to replace our old copper networks with high-speed fiber in our 1,400-square-mile service territory south of Wichita. We broke ground later that year with an estimated completion date of mid-2012.

However, when the FCC announced its modifications last November, it made the rules retroactive. We quickly determined that we could no longer afford to build our network on the timetable we had previously established.

To compound our problems, the FCC is now planning additional reforms that will make it even harder for KanOkla and other small companies to keep delivering high-quality, affordable services to consumers. Along with further cuts to the fund, the new rules call for the FCC to make retroactive changes to the program every year. As a result, it is impossible for companies like ours to do strategic planning.

Last year, researchers at Wichita State University released a study that evaluated the economic impact of the FCC’s then-proposed changes on Kansas, and concluded that the changes would cause the loss of hundreds of jobs, millions in wages, and more than $4 million in state and local tax revenues over the next five years. Unfortunately, the study’s conclusions are starting to come true.

I urge every resident to join the Save Rural Broadband campaign by going to www.saveruralbroadband.org. Without pressure, the FCC will continue on its current path – one that threatens to leave much of Kansas behind.

Greg Aldridge is CEO of KanOkla Networks in Caldwell.

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