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Rural telcos can bust a move on big incumbents, says CPUC commissioner

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Typically, telephone companies do not intrude on each other’s territory, but that’s a matter of custom, not a fundamental law of the universe. Commissioner Catherine Sandoval says that breaking down that barrier could be a way to improve broadband coverage in rural areas, if small rural telephone companies are willing to take on big incumbents, with the encouragement of the California Public Utilities Commission.

She spoke at the Central Sierra Connect Broadband Consortium conference in Tuolumne City last week about going to public meetings in rural areas and hearing from speaker after disgruntled speaker…

It turns out that what they were disgruntled about is they said that ‘my neighbor who’s just down the road has terrific Internet access and I don’t have Internet access and I want better Internet access’. And when we asked who their carrier was, their carrier was not a rural local exchange carrier, they were in the territory next door, which is served by the incumbent local exchange carrier. And they were very frustrated because the incumbent hadn’t built out to their area. And when they asked when are you going to build out there were no solid plans about when the build out was going to happen.

And these were people who lived very close to the RLEC who are begging to be RLEC customers. So one of the things that we’re doing is also talking with the RLECs about whether and how that can be made possible. So people really wanted know, what are the barriers, why can’t this be done? Well, the truth is it can be done and there’s a variety of ways that we can do it, either by the RLECs becoming competitive local exchange carriers and interconnecting across their boundaries and serving in their neighbor’s boundary. You can also petition the FCC to change the boundary.

Particularly where one has seen the documentation that the FCC has done, where they’ve looked at areas in America that are designated as unserved by the FCC’s definition in terms of broadband, which is a very low definition. 3 megabits down, 768 up is their definition of unserved.

Most of the people who live in unserved territories in the United States are in incumbent local exchange carrier areas, they are not in RLEC territories. I think the message here for our friends that are ILECs is that people want your investment, people want better service. We really would like the ILECs to step up and invest in these rural areas".

Sandoval said that changes to state law allow the CPUC to take money that’s earmarked for subsidising plain old telephone service in rural areas and use it to help small rural telephone companies build out broadband infrastructure.