Washington, D.C. - The Washington Post recently confirmed what Sagebrush Cellular CEO and Rural Wireless Association President Mike Kilgore knows all too well – the company’s service area in Northeast Montana is exceedingly remote. The article notes that “[o]f all towns with more than 1,000 residents, Glasgow, home to 3,363 people in the rolling prairie of northeastern Montana, is farthest — about 4.5 hours in any direction — from any metropolitan area.” Nearby Scobey and Wolf Point – also in Sagebrush’s service area – round out the top three “hardest to reach” small towns in the nation.
For many Montana residents, Sagebrush and its wireline affiliate Nemont Telephone Cooperative are the only source of voice and broadband service. Locals rely on the companies for 911 service, business development opportunities, telemedicine and education applications, and much more. “The services we provide are critical, really critical, to public safety, agriculture and energy production – everything,” said Kilgore. “Our team works incredibly hard, and is proud of our role in these communities.”
But rural wireless industry leaders know that their ability to sustain service to these areas of the country is in a state of limbo, and will turn on how well the FCC’s revamp of its universal service program is implemented. “Building and maintaining rural networks in the current environment is a real challenge,” said Carri Bennet, RWA’s General Counsel. “Rural wireless service providers rely on three main sources of revenue. Think of it like a three-legged stool. The first leg is subscriber revenue, the second is network roaming revenue from other carriers, and the third is federal Universal Service Fund support. Given that subscriber revenue is naturally limited by population and the data roaming market is dysfunctional, ongoing sufficient and predictable federal support is critical to the mission of companies like Sagebrush and the rural residents they serve.”
RWA has been actively working to ensure that the FCC’s Mobility Fund Phase II auction, an auction that is supposed to take place in the next year, doesn’t harm rural Americans living in areas like Glasgow, Scobey and Wolf Point by diverting funding to more populated areas of the country.
The FCC’s Mobility Fund Phase II auction will disperse $4.53 billion over a 10-year period to those seeking to build and operate LTE networks in rural America where no unsubsidized carrier serves today. More money is needed than is currently available. Unless there is more funding to build and upgrade this critical wireless infrastructure, many in rural America could go without service.
About Sagebrush Cellular, Inc. and Nemont Telephone Cooperative - Sagebrush Cellular, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Nemont Telephone Cooperative, Inc. Sagebrush provides wireless service to over 14,000 square miles in Northwest North Dakota and Southcentral and Northeast Montana via 179 cell sites. Headquartered in Scobey, MT, Nemont has provided service to its rural customers since 1954, and offers broadband, video, local and long distance telephone services. For more information visit https://www.nemont.com/.
About RWA - Headquartered in Washington, D.C., RWA - the Rural Wireless Association is a trade association representing rural wireless carriers who each serve fewer than 100,000 subscribers. RWA's members have joined together to speed the delivery of new, efficient and innovative wireless technologies to remote and underserved communities. For more information visit www.ruralwireless.org