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ASHEVILLE, N.C. – A group of rural broadband advocates is calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reform its rural broadband policies by acknowledging that community-based broadband networks may serve some rural communities more effectively than non-local, for-profit carriers.
The request was made in a March 2 filing by the Asheville, N.C.-based Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) in response to an FCC request for public comment to evaluate and update the 2009 “Report on a Rural Broadband Strategy.” The public-comment request included related FCC actions such as the National Broadband Plan released in March, 2010. Congress mandated the 2009 report in the 2008 Farm Bill.
MAIN’s filing cites a bias toward for-profit business models and incumbent carriers, at the expense of community-based networks, in both the 2009 Report and the National Broadband Plan. The filing was endorsed by two California-based community broadband networks, Access Humboldt and Tribal Digital Village, and the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which promotes federal and state policies supporting community broadband networks.
“This bias is both striking and ironic given both documents’ celebration of the historic success of nonprofit networks in providing rural telephone and electric services over the last seven decades,” said MAIN executive director Wally Bowen.
“Our filing asks the FCC to recognize that nonprofit business models are still viable today and should play a key role in any federal broadband strategy,” Bowen said. He cited the mountain region of North Carolina for examples of successful nonprofit broadband networks, ranging from traditional rural electric and telephone cooperatives to more recent community-based operations. These networks include: French Broad EMC, ERC Broadband, PANGAEA, MAIN, Skyline Membership Corp., and Balsam West, a public-private partnership of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee and a Franklin, N.C.-based software firm.
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