If you live in Brunswick County, North Carolina, you just might get fiber-to-the-home courtesy of the U.S. government, as long as that home is in a pricey development adjacent to a golf course. Like many rural telephone cooperatives, ATMC Inc., Shallotte, N.C., (formerly Atlantic Telephone Management Systems), receives a low-interest loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Services agency, which was set up to fund universal broadband service. ATMC’s work, however, illustrates the inherent problems with current federal broadband programsÃ¢â?¬â??the company is applying the funding to high-density residential developments where there is already competition from at least two other broadband providers. Kris Ward, business development manager, was frank about the cost-vs.-revenue issues of deploying FTTH during a session at the e-NC Authority’s Southeast Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Conference last week. e-NC serves North Carolina by identifying and facilitating opportunities for local and regional telecom development. “We’re building fiber to high-density areas. We can’t afford to drop fiber just for voice,” Ward said. Of course, this is the criticism leveled at build-out process of larger incumbents, and precisely the reason programs like RUS were created. But extending FTTH to areas unserved by broadband is not on ATMC’s agenda. Currently, ATMC has built FTTH systems in 22 new developments, some attached to golf courses, and all in areas served by cable TV companies who offer broadband service via cable modem. Although parts of North Carolina are struggling economically, it hard to make the case that Brunswick County, located in the extreme southeast corner of the state is among them, Ward cited U.S. census data that county is the 17th fastest growing in the U.S., fueled by retirees who are moving to the Carolina coast. “Growth is expected for years to come,” Ward said. Despite that other providers are building broadband networks without government help, Ward said ATMC is using its FTTH network as a competitive differentiator. “FTTH is our selling point.” At the same time, Ward admits “We couldn’t do it without [the RUS loans].
Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.