The recent FCC application withdrawal for the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger will significantly delay the build-out of rural broadband, the National Grange said Friday, and further put rural Americans behind their urban and suburban counterparts.
The withdrawal came after the FCC circulated a staff analysis on November 23, that expressed a severely negative response to almost every argument AT&T made as to why this merger was a positive move for the public.
The FCC staff analysis claimed that the arguments which AT&T put forth regarding to expanding coverage from 80 percent to 97 percent, without government subsidies, would occur anyway due to carrier competition.
National Grange Legislative Director Nicole Palya Wood said she, like many members of the 145-year-old nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, is extremely frustrated by the news.
"The assumption made by FCC staff that market competition in these high-cost rural areas will drive private entities to make these investments on their own is incredibly unsubstantiated," Wood said Friday. "Our members suffer greatly from a digital divide that leaves them without affordable high-speed internet access, let alone competition which provides them a choice of providers in their areas."
National Grange President Ed Luttrell said Friday, "Grange members have for nearly a decade supported rural broadband expansion as a way to enhance business, educational and health options in rural areas. Many of the Grange's more than 160,000 members face inadequate or no access to high-speed internet."
"The rationale that build-out will happen anyway, stands in direct conflict with every statement the FCC has put forth in the National Broadband Plan, and its press releases over the last two years, not to mention that it ignores a commitment made President Obama to make broadband build-out a top priority. Rural Americans lost big with the withdrawal of this merger application," Wood said.
Wood said she hopes the agency will take a closer look at future proposals and assumptions made in the staff analysis.
"I would highly encourage FCC staff to explore this argument when looking into further applications," Wood said.