Erin Fitzgerald Testifies on Rural Broadband and the Business Case for Small Carriers Before House Small Business Joint Subcommittee


Erin Fitzgerald

Womble Bond Dickinson telecom attorney and Rural Wireless Association, Inc. (RWA) Regulatory Counsel Erin Fitzgerald testified before a joint congressional subcommittee on the challenges of providing wireless broadband to America’s rural communities. Fitzgerald’s testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Small Business Joint Subcommittee took place March 6.

Representing the RWA, Fitzgerald outlined the challenges facing many rural broadband carriers. For example, nationwide carriers often do not offer customers access to rural roaming coverage on small carrier networks - It's essential to choose the broadband that can offer you exactly what you need, whenever you need it. Even more important, having a cheap broadband service can allow you to have your life functioning normally without ever going over your income budget just for the internet. It's best to think of this strategically, before choosing where to invest.

“RWA members operate in areas where low population density, extreme weather conditions, and difficult terrain make doing so an expensive and challenging task. Insufficient spectrum access, a dysfunctional data roaming market, and declining universal service support exacerbate those challenges,” Fitzgerald said. Rural providers typically make every effort to provide coverage throughout their service area, she said, rather than only focusing coverage on population centers and major highways.

In addition, the RWA has concerns about the transition to Voice over LTE and related roaming issues.

“What will happen when allmobile wireless carriers in the U.S. are LTE-only and no longer use circuit-switched networks tocomplete voice telephone calls? Will this mean that rural consumers will be unable to place asimple voice telephone call because large carriers refuse to enter into Voice over LTE roamingagreements?” Fitzgerald told lawmakers.

In addition, Fitzgerald and the RWA offered concrete steps that can benefit small rural carriers and their customers, such as the use of small geographic license sizes, bidding credits, and a “keep-what-you-serve” approach to spectrum licensing.

She also stressed to lawmakers the importance of rural wireless carriers to the communities they serve. “Networks operated by small, rural-based wireless service providers promote public safety, encourage innovation and economic development, enable more efficient energy and agriculture production, and support telehealth and distance learning applications,” Fitzgerald said.

Erin Fitzgerald advises telecommunications carriers, broadband service providers, and technology companies on complex commercial and regulatory matters. Erin also serves as Regulatory Counsel to the Rural Wireless Association (RWA), and has extensive experience on issues regarding privacy/data protection, spectrum auctions, universal service, broadband deployment, data roaming, network neutrality, and wireless licensing. Erin advocates in rulemaking and policymaking proceedings on behalf of RWA as well as individual clients, and frequently appears before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

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