The Republican Party Platform, released on Tuesday, criticized the execution of the National Broadband Plan's goal of universal connectivity under President Obama and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowksi, and took a veiled shot at the agency's efforts to reform the Universal Service Fund.
The platform asserts that the current administration, "inherited from the previous Republican Administration 95 percent coverage of the nation with broadband. It will leave office with no progress toward the goal of universal coverage -- after spending $7.2 billion more."
Republicans say lack of broadband access, "hurts rural America, where farmers, ranchers, and small business manufacturers need connectivity to expand their customer base and operate in real time with the world's producers. We encourage public-private partnerships to provide predictable support for connecting rural areas so that every American can fully participate in the global economy."
The "predictable support" language resonated with a trade association representing rural telecommunications providers, whose members are experience changes to their funding formula under the recent USF overhaul. The current USF program subsidizes efforts by rural telecoms to provide wireline telephone and broadband access to the most remote and hard-to-reach customers.
"We applaud Republican leaders for recognizing the importance of broadband connectivity to rural communities, and for supporting the public-private partnerships that provide a positive return to American citizens and are critical to the deployment of broadband-capable networks in hard-to-serve rural areas," National Telecommunications Cooperative Association Vice President of Government Affairs Tom Wacker said. "Our nation can only sustain and build upon this success, however, if these public-private partnerships continue and there is predictable and sufficient universal service support going forward such as this platform contemplates."
Changes in the USF, which included a hard cap on total subsidies for wireline phone service, have rankled rural and tribal telecommunications providers, which are concerned that they will have to raise rates, cut back on services to their most far-flung customers, or go out of business.
The $7.2 billion mentioned in the Republican plank refers to funding for broadband adoption and access grants included in the 2009 economic stimulus package. The raw numbers in the recent Broadband Progress Report from the FCC, appears to agree with this assessment, reporting that 6 percent of the U.S. population lacks "access to fixed broadband service at threshold speeds." The details offer a more nuanced picture, with about 7 million Americans gaining access to broadband between June 2010 and June 2011. Under Bush-era definitions of broadband speed, this number is even larger.