The Federal Communications Commission has put its backing behind broadband communication.
In recent changes to the high-cost portion of its Universal Service Fund, the FCC requires recipients of USF funding to provide both traditional voice and broadband service to underserved areas.
Much of Southeast Alaska already has broadband service.
Through its Southeast Alaska Microwave Network, Alaska Power and Telephone is able to meet FCC’s new broadband requirements.
“As far back as 2001 we have been trying to develop a SAMN,” Michael Garrett, executive vice president of Alaska Power and Telephone said in an email interview.
“However it took until 2006 before we started construction.”
Garrett said funding for the project started with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utility Service. The microwave network first delivered broadband to Kasaan. It now provides service from Metlakatla to Skagway and much of Prince of Wales Island.
“It was hard to do,” Garrett said.
Garrett said AP&T provides 8mb/s DSL where it is the wired broadband provider. It also serves some areas with wireless broadband service.
“As you can imagine that is a little more difficult in (Southeast) Alaska given the terrain, trees and liquid sunshine,” Garrett said.
According to the FCC, residents in and around Hoonah and Angoon are underserved by their current telecommunications services.
Though AP&T meets the FCC’s new broadband requirements, Garrett said other changes could spell trouble for AP&T and its customers.
For example, telephone companies must meet a certain performance threshold for backhaul — for AP&T its backhaul is comprised of delivering Internet data from its Southeast service area to the rest of the world, Garrett said.
“We have to meet certain thresholds no matter the cost,” Garrett said.
If FCC changes its service requirements “it would dramatically affect our company and customers,” Garrett said.
The U.S. Communications Act of 1934 called for “rapid, efficient, nationwide, and worldwide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges.”
U.S. lawmakers reworked Communications Act in 1996, creating the Universal Service Fund.
The fund was created to “promote the availability of quality services at just, reasonable and affordable rates for all consumers,” according to the FCC website. The fund has special requirements to provide advanced telecommunications services to consumers “in low income, rural, insular, and high cost areas at rates that are reasonably comparable to those charged in urban areas,” according to the FCC.
The FCC plans to phase out the Fund’s high-cost program between now and 2018 when the program is fully switched to the Connect America Fund. The Connect America Fund, first approved in Oct. 2011, requires telecommunications companies to provide broadband to underserved markets. It went into effect July 1.
CAF is capped at $4.5 billion annually, funded by a tax added to customers’ telephone bills. The FCC estimates that customers paying less than $30 per month for telephone service can expect a $0.10 to $0.15 tax. These charges are expected to decline after 2018.
• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.