NEW ORLEANS — Metaswitch Forum 2014 — Rural telcos have their best chance to get into the wireless game in the upcoming FCC auction of 600MHz spectrum, assuming the rules stay as currently laid out, says the head of the largest association of rural companies.
Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of the NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association , today called this latest spectrum block "the last bit of beachfront property" and urged rural telcos to participate in the upcoming Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auction. The current proposal, which has proven controversial, limits what AT&T and Verizon can buy and creates smaller markets, opening the door for rural telcos to buy spectrum that covers their footprint without being forced to buy a large block. (See FCC Chief: Keep Spectrum Open for Smaller Carriers.)
"This is one last shot at having wireless spectrum," Bloomfield said in a keynote here. "If the rules stay as they are currently drafted, this is a favorable situation for smaller carriers.
In a conversation after her presentation, she said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal -- which prompted AT&T to threaten not to participate in the auction at all -- has earned kudos among smaller telcos and wireless carriers. Now they need to step up and participate in the auction, Bloomfield said, to insure that broadcasters relinquish the spectrum.
Wheeler is also open to discussing other issues rural wireless operators have faced, including lack of access to the most popular handsets and roaming problems, Bloomfield said.
The NTCA is also actively engaged with federal regulators where its transition to the all-IP network is concerned. More than half of its members have already deployed softswitches in the move to IP, and more than 75% have deployed fiber-to-the-home somewhere in their networks, she said.
Her association is looking at the overlap between where its members are actively engaged in the IP transition and where there is an electric utility that has also responded to the FCC's request for information, hoping to see where partnerships can be built between the two local companies' phone and power.
In general, rural telcos (that have taken their knocks in recent years with the loss of Universal Service funding and some complex formulas for future funding) are working hard to stay at the table and in the conversation where the FCC is concerned, and finding Wheeler to be a reasonable person with whom to deal, Bloomfield added.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading