A fully staffed FCC is important for rural broadband: Bloomfield

Shirley Bloomfield

Yesterday, President Joe Biden renominated Gigi Sohn to be a member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a term of five years from July 1, 2021. Although there have been some calls for Biden to withdraw her nomination, the president has sent her name back to the Senate.

To continue the good work already underway and to take the next steps necessary, I urge Congress to move forward with the nomination of Sohn as the fifth commissioner to the FCC. Her confirmation is critical to ensuring all hands will be on deck as the FCC considers the future of universal service and builds upon its efforts to get and keep every American connected.

We are on the cusp of a broadband deployment revolution, with billions of dollars dedicated by Congress to expand connectivity to all Americans and close the digital divide. While these funds will go to a variety of agencies, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is poised to play a key role in overseeing several new programs and coordinating on others — and all of this in addition to the essential work it already does to promote universal service.

Leveraging these FCC programs combined with a mix of community commitment, private capital, and entrepreneurial spirit, local broadband providers have already done yeoman’s work connecting their neighbors and communities near rural consumers with high-speed internet.

In fact, the latest survey results of NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association shows that providers are offering fiber connectivity to nearly 75% of their customers and to nearly all of the schools, libraries and medical centers in their communities. But there is plenty of work left to be done to reach those lacking service and to sustain robust and affordable services for those fortunate enough to have them already.

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The list of critical projects on the FCC’s docket is long. In addition to its ongoing role in overseeing our nation’s mission of universal service, the FCC’s charge includes finishing the mapping effort required to prioritize areas of need. The FCC can also be an expert resource for states to ensure funds are directed to providers capable of delivering on their promises and collaborate with other agencies in seeking solutions to our current telecom supply chain challenges and workforce development concerns. And, with years of universal service experience under its belt, the FCC is well-positioned to help make sure our nation leverages the expertise of community-based providers in fulfilling broadband visions for millions of Americans.
NTCA is ready and eager to work on these issues with the FCC, and we believe a Commissioner Sohn would add great value to these efforts. Throughout her career, whether as senior staff at the FCC or working with various organizations and in academia, Sohn has consistently demonstrated thoughtfulness and pragmatism in approaching difficult questions and a willingness to engage with stakeholders of all kinds to discuss and debate these issues. Her understanding and expertise of telecommunications policy, together with her long-standing interest in promoting access to affordable and advanced communications services, position her well to consider the issues that will come before the Commission.  
Successful federal telecommunications policy — and the connectivity of all Americans — depends, in part, upon effective leadership and pragmatic decision-making at the FCC. We encourage the Senate to confirm Sohn to the FCC as we enter a new and exciting chapter in efforts to close the digital divide in rural areas.
Shirley Bloomfield is chief executive officer of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, representing nearly 850 independent telecommunications companies that are leading innovation in rural and small-town America.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceWireless staff. They do not necessarily represent the opinions of FierceWireless.