Rural Broadband Gets A Big Boost

With surprisingly little attention the FCC a week ago released almost half a billion dollars – to me that’s a lot of money – to help connect rural homes and businesses to high-speed broadband.

The money, some $485 million, came from the Connect America Fund – what used to be the Universal Service Fund in the days that the goal was simply to provide traditional analog phone service to every nook and cranny of the United States. The latest tranche is the last in Phase I of the fund. In Phase II, even more cash is on the line, with some $1.8 billion annually available to service providers to underwrite building high speed fixed and mobile broadband to unserved communities. Total FCC investment in expansion and support of rural fixed and mobile broadband and voice through the Connect America Fund is budgeted at $4.5 billion. The FCC also estimates that untold millions more will be invested by carriers from their own funds in the effort.

“Without broadband, consumers and small businesses are cut off from the $8 trillion global Internet economy, severely limiting opportunities for jobs and economic prosperity,” the FCC said in announcing its release of the funds. Full details of the latest FCC action, including a history of the program, can be found here.

What the FCC is doing can’t help but be a boon to companies such as Phone.com, which stand ready to provide VoIP services to small businesses and residential users in rural areas the minute they do get adequate broadband. The FCC estimates that market represents about 15 million people, which one suspects translates into millions of small businesses, creating a fertile new market opportunity for VoIP phone service providers.