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ETC Designation Requirement?

ISPs Largely Welcome Proposed FCC Alaska Connect Fund

ISPs and industry groups generally supported the FCC's proposal that builds on its Alaska Plan high-cost USF program by transforming it into an Alaska Connect Fund. Reply comments were posted Friday in docket 23-328 (see 2310190056). Some urged that the commission reconsider its eligible telecom carrier (ETC) designation requirement for support recipients and sought a technology-neutral approach.

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It's "abundantly clear" that Alaska has unique broadband needs, said the Alaska Telecom Association. It asked the FCC to "avoid experimenting with new approaches" as it establishes the program. ATA also noted that swift action ensures providers will have clarity as they prepare for NTIA's broadband, equity, access and deployment program.

NTCA urged that the commission act "as promptly as possible" to establish a framework that "tailors deployment requirements in each area to the challenges presented" there. The group also cautioned not to abandon ETC designation requirements for support recipients, saying it "ensure[s] accountability in the use of funds."

The proposed Alaska Connect Fund is "a key component for sustainability as we work to close Alaska's digital divide," said the Alaska Broadband Office. The office noted there aren't "unreasonable barriers" to obtaining ETC designation in the state and urged the FCC to avoid abandoning this requirement. "A reduction in the requirements of the ETC designation process runs a grave risk of lessening the reliability and veracity of Alaska Connect Fund applicants," the office said.

Adopt an "Alaska-specific cost model" to determine appropriate deployment or operational support levels, said Alaska Communications. Doing so would "provide certainty" for providers seeking to deploy, maintain, operate or upgrade broadband networks. Alaska Power & Telephone sought participation in the proposed new program, saying timely action is necessary to determine its ability to apply for grant-funded projects and partner with tribes on "special initiatives." Alaska is a "very high-cost location" with "difficult service requirements and unique complexities that vary significantly between communities," the company said.

SpaceX urged the FCC to adopt "truly technology-neutral rules," saying next-generation satellite networks like its subsidiary Starlink are "already connecting consumers, businesses, and community anchor institutions" throughout the state. Tech-neutral rules would ensure the hardest to reach areas in Alaska can still be served, SpaceX said. Alaska is "at a critical moment," said GCI Communication. Starting "immediately" would allow providers to ensure there are "thoughtful and well-planned improvements in service" in addition to their participation in the BEAD program.

The Alaska Rural ISP Association, which included a group of non-ETC providers serving the state, opposed the proposed new program. It also opposed retaining the ETC requirement. "Providing broadband is not the same business as providing wireline telephone services," the group said.