How Do the Feds Fund Broadband? Let Me Count The Ways

Perhaps the real question to ask about the so-called “digital divide,” isn’t how to address it, but whether it exists at all, at least when it comes to rural telecommunications. Universal service came up during two policy sessions at the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Spring Forum in Washington this week. And comments and presentations left me wondering to what extent rural America was “underserved.” During Friday’s session “Local Competition in Local Telecommunications: Do Americans Have a Real Choice?” (as an aside: all the evidence presented points to the answer as a resounding “Yes!”), Brian Ford, policy analyst for OPASTCO, the trade group that represents some 520 small rural telcos, said some 90 percent of its membership is offering broadband Internet. And that group of 90 percent makes broadband available to 90 percent of their customers. In addition, half of the OPASTCO membership is offering wireless services and half (not necessarily the same or opposing half) are offering video.