Developers of high-speed communications systems say consistency in federal and state support is needed to provide better services across the state.
Mike Becker is CEO of Hartelco, based in Hartington, Nebraska. He told members of the legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee that Hartington, in northeast Nebraska, is a 100 percent fiber-optic cable community, serving 148 square miles.
“We have installed buried fiber to 100 percent of the homes, businesses, farms, and cell towers within our service area,” Becker testified. “We’ve eliminated the digital divide.”
He says the company likely could not have done that without the Universal Service Fund, which supports providing access to communications services to all Americans.
He says federal and state funding for that program has been declining.
“It is important, but very expensive work,” Becker explains. “We’re now in the process of paying back more than $12.6 million in Rural Utility Service loans for our fiber investments. Our accomplishments would likely not have occurred without the Universal Service fund.”
President and CEO of Diller Telephone Company and Diode Communications, Randy Sandman, says broadband deployment such as that through fiber-optics is crucial to bringing families to rural areas and helping businesses develop.
“We have built out to 80 percent of our customers in those areas, and plan to finish the build in the next 18 months,” Sandman told senators. “We have utilized both Nebraska Universal Service funding and federal Universal Service funds to accomplish these fiber builds.”
The company serves about 35 communities. Sandman calls broadband “a game-changer” and an economic development tool.