NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, Tuesday vowed to keep rural areas connected despite the expiration of the FCC’s connectivity pledge.
Association members have, in many cases, gone above and beyond during the pandemic, according to NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield. “They’ve offered free and discounted services to schools and to home-bound school children, opened WiFi hotspots across their communities, and connected health care providers in a matter of days,” said Bloomfield.
Many NTCA members the association heard from in recent days will do everything within their power to sustain such efforts. “They are planning to continue offering free WiFi hotspots, they are working actively with schools for online summer coursework and increased preparations for potential remote learning in the fall and helping customers who are behind on payment,” said Bloomfield.
However, small and rural broadband providers face financial strains. A recent NTCA survey found that, on average, members have approximately $80,000 in accumulated “non-payments” by customers since mid-March. As providers with fewer than 30 employees on average, these costs are tough to bear—and as they extend payment flexibility to customers, these costs may only increase, according to the executive.
Members of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, which supports fixed wireless broadband, also face financial outlays for keeping rural communities connected during the pandemic. WISPA surveyed members on the costs incurred for non-payment of bills, waiver of late fees and the provision of free WiFi or other broadband connectivity to individuals and communities during the duration of the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected pledge.
WISPA found its average member has about 1,500 subscribers, and the costs to them on average for non-paying accounts was about $25,000 over the duration of the pledge. The average costs not charged for late fees was about $3,200. Free WiFi or other broadband connectivity donated to individuals and the community, averaged over $4,500.
Bloomfield urged congressional passage of the Keeping Critical Connections Act, which would reimburse smaller broadband companies that have provided free or discounted services to certain customers during the pandemic and did not disconnect customers who could not pay.
The post Rural Broadband Providers Incur Costs, Still Commits to Connectivity appeared first on Inside Towers.