South Dakotans need more broadband. LTD Broadband wants to bring South Dakotans more broadband. The Public Utilities Commission had told LTD, we don’t want your broadband.
Last February, LTD Broadband, based in Las Vegas, won $1.32 billion from the Federal Communication Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to install fiber and microwave broadband for rural customers in 15 states. LTD says it would use $46.6 million of that socialist subsidy to connect 7,000 rural South Dakota households and businesses over the next ten years. LTD has to secure state approval for the FCC to release that money. But South Dakota’s existing telecoms object to LTD’s entry into their marketplace, telling the Public Utilities Commission that LTD is underestimating how much it will cost to build its network and pointing to LTD’s legal stumbles in other states.
The PUC staff concluded in its January brief to commission that LTD has clearly met all of the state requirements for approval except for the public interest standard. On that final point, staff says both LTD and the South Dakota Telecommunications Association have presented reasonable evidence on LTD’s ability or lack thereof to “provide the supported services throughout the designated service area within a reasonable time frame”:
Although Staff maintains that based on FCC Order 05-46 and ARSD 20:10:43.07, a determination of whether granting ETC designation is in the public interest is necessary, Staff acknowledges that SDTA and LTD have made compelling arguments regarding whether LTD has shown that granting ETC designation is in the public interest. Staff believes that the Commission is well within its discretion to rule on either side of this issue [Amanda M. Reiss, PUC staff attorney, Staff’s Post Hearing Brief, PUC Telecom Docket #TC21-001, 2022.01.25].
The Public Utilities Commissioners did rule on either side of this issue: Commissioners Chris Nelson and Kristie Fiegen ruled against LTD, while Commissioner Gary Hanson ruled for LTD:
Commissioner Kristie Fiegen said LTD Broadband hadn’t met its burden. “I believe they lack the evidence to provide the services in South Dakota to meet the public interest,” she said.
Commissioner Gary Hanson wanted the company approved. “This has been a real contentious issue before us,” Hanson said. “I don’t believe the PUC ever denied an ETC status.”
Chairman Chris Nelson said the decision should be based on the importance of protecting “the scarce dollars” in the universal service fund. “State commissions have a unique insight that is impossible to have at the federal level,” he said.
“This is not the conclusion I would have preferred. We need every possible company to solve the broadband problem,” Nelson added. “This isn’t where I wanted to end up with this docket.”
Hanson didn’t back off. “The risk we are taking is we have a bird in hand and there’s no one in the bushes,” he said. “These can take a long time if we don’t pursue it now.”
Nelson countered, “Half of these areas are going to be covered by the end of this year.” He said there’s at least another $100 million of government support to reach into remaining areas.
Hanson answered, “A pot of two billion dollars may not be enough.” He added, “Even if (the owner) fails, we benefit. But we won’t benefit if we have to wait and wait and wait like we have.”
Nelson responded there’s going to be a lot of buildout. “This is going to happen. It needs to happen responsibly” [Bob Mercer, “S.D. Regulators Decide Against LTD Broadband,” KELO-TV, 2022.02.18].
Evidently we already have enough socialism to build broadband in South Dakota.
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