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Telcos to FCC: 706 Report Should Conclude Reasonable/Timely Broadband Rollout

Phone companies told the FCC Tuesday that they thought broadband was being deployed in a reasonable and timely manner, and said the FCC should think so, too.

That came in comments on the FCC's upcoming eighth annual 706 report on broadband deployment.

Last spring, the FCC released its seventh 706 report on broadband deployment, saying for the second time in a row that it was not being deployed in a reasonable and timely manner and pointing to its figures that over 20 million people did not have access to high-speed broadband and over 100 million did not subscribe, saying both were signs of failure to meet the deployment standard. The report did say progress had been made, but not enough.

A failing grade allows the FCC to take steps to advance that deployment, which it is pushing as key to public participation in the digital future.

In comments due Tuesday, Sept. 6 (the deadline to weigh in on how the FCC should collect and massage data for its next report), phone companies argue that the results of that collection should be different from the previous report.

In a statement, USTelecom CEO Walter McCormick points out that the companies were puzzled by that finding and, a year later -- the May report was on data through June 2010 -- investment dollars have continued to increase even in a down economy, to $66 billion in 2010 from $63 billion in 2009. McCormick says that is three times the investment in the original interstate highway program and almost seven times the investment in the Apollo space program. "The commission's examination of broadband deployment in the United States must lead to the conclusion that broadband is being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion in this next report," McCormick said.

He also put in a plug for the phone industry's America's Broadband Connectivity Plan, the Universal Service Fund reform plan the FCC put out for comment several weeks ago. "The commission has an opportunity to further increase the nation's broadband deployment through adoption of the universal service and intercarrier compensation reforms outlined in America's Broadband Connectivity Plan and in a Consensus Framework supported by companies and associations that serve that vast majority of rural America," McCormick said in a statement. USTelecom is expected to say much the same thing in reply comments to the FCC on that plan, which it is filing late Tuesday.

Cable operators have argued that the plan is tilted in favor of maintaining support for phone company incumbents. NCTA has countered with a modified plan that would include preventing any USF broadband subsidies to incumbents where at least one competitor not receiving USF money was offering service, or in any census block that received stimulus funding from the Rural Utilities Service or NTIA for broadband buildout.