Legislation recently introduced in Harrisburg requiring regulated rural phone carriers, the RLECs, to provide certain minimum broadband speeds punishes the very companies that are already bring increasingly higher speeds to rural areas.
Under HB 333, the rural carriers (members of the Pennsylvania Telephone Association, PTA), would be required upon customer request to offer speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and equal to or greater than 20 megabits per second (Mbps) upstream, or minimum speeds adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC speeds are required under a rural broadband program the commission administers.
PTA members couldn’t agree more that Pennsylvania’s telecommunications policy needs to be modernized, but fewer regulatory hurdles, not more, are the way to get there. Note that under a 2004 law, Act 183, the RLECs were required to reach 100 percent deployment in their service territories at certain minimum speeds and by certain dates. The carriers met their deployment deadlines, and increasingly offer speeds far above those set down in Act 183, in many cases exceeding the FCC broadband definition. In exchange for meeting their goals, the carriers were granted relief from a few costly, outdated regulations.
We need more of that. To suggest otherwise by pointing at the RLECs as the reason for the digital divide lacks an understanding of what these companies have done since the passage of Act 183 to bring cutting-edge broadband service to all corners of the commonwealth.
In contrast, legislation in the Senate, SB 85, that further trims outdated regulations will encourage deployment by making the RLECs more competitive with cable, wireless and other unregulated carriers. That bill, introduced by Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York), is the key towards even faster deployment of high-speed rural broadband, not ill-advised legislation punitive to an industry that is the solution and not the problem.