In our industry, it’s easy to ‘geek out’ over the latest technology while taking for granted what many Americans are still waiting for: reliable and affordable broadband access. Certainly, better technologies, improved delivery systems and policy decisions by the FCC, have been instrumental in narrowing the digital divide, including its new “One Touch Make Ready” (OTMR) policy. OTMR replaces today’s ‘decision by committee’ process of deciding whether to grant utility pole access with one that allows attachers to request an expedited option for less complex projects.
Windstream serves many rural areas and we’re keenly aware that broadband access is still an issue for many of these customers. An FCC report confirms that the digital divide that still exists between urban and rural areas where access to FCC-benchmark levels of terrestrial and mobile broadband is less than 70% in rural areas (even lower on Tribal lands) vs. 97% in urban.
Access to poles is only part of the problem. The FCC is also reviewing the disparate rates that ILEC’s (including Windstream) and other telco providers pay to attach to electric utility’s poles. In one state alone, Windstream pays the co-op electric utility four times more than to an investor-owned utility for the same access. That may be great for the co-op’s owners, but it does little to advance the speed of their customer’s internet connection.
The FCC’s OTMR policy and rate review will go a long way toward increasing reliable and affordable broadband access in un- and under-served areas. We hope it encourages greater ‘co-operation’ among fellow providers in rural areas, as well. Learn more about the first step to simplify broadband deployment here.
Tony Thomas is president and CEO of Windstream, a position he has held since December 2014. Thomas has more than 20 years’ experience in the communications industry. He was instrumental in the development of Windstream’s REIT spinoff and served as president of real estate investment trust operations at Windstream from October to December 2014.
Thomas previously served as Windstream’s CFO. During his five-year tenure, he played an integral role in Windstream’s expansion by completing seven acquisitions totaling more than $5.6B in transaction value. Thomas also has deep capital market expertise, having led almost $10B in debt transactions.
Thomas joined Windstream as controller following Windstream’s spinoff from Alltel Corp. He held a variety of financial and operational leadership roles at Alltel after joining the company when it merged with 360 Communications in 1998. Before entering the communications industry, he was with Ernst & Young in their telecom practice.
He holds an MBA from Wake Forest University and a bachelor’s in accountancy from the University of Illinois.
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