Rural Telecom Operators Take on Risks for Their Communities, But for How Long?

By Jeff Johnston

May 2020

Key Points

  • Rural telecommunication operators are taking on business and financial risks to ensure their communities remain connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Many are providing free service and setting up free Wi-Fi hot spots, exposing them to cash flow risks.
  • COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerability of the unserved in rural America as remote learning and working from home become the norm.
  • Because of these vulnerabilities, rural communities have an increased sense of urgency to bridge the digital divide.
  • The current Universal Service Fund (USF) architecture, intended to help fund the bridge, may not be a sustainable model. New sources of revenue, such as applying fees to broadband services, may be a solution.

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