ARLINGTON, VA — Even though rural broadband take rates continue to rise, further deployment is threatened by the regulatory uncertainty surrounding the national broadband plan (NBP), according to a new survey by the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA).

NTCA found that the overall broadband take rate for its members (telephone companies serving rural areas) was 55 percent, up from 38 percent last year. All the survey respondents said they offered broadband to some part of their customer base, but an overwhelming majority expressed concern about the impact of the NBP on their operations, saying the uncertainty about the NBP’s potential changes to the existing regulatory framework is affecting their current decision-making process and impeding their ability to obtain necessary funding for broadband deployment. One feature of the plan that has been most unsettling for rural telcos is the proposed replacement of the existing Universal Service Fund and intercarrier compensation programs (which nearly all of them rely on for support) by the Connect America Fund. The new regulatory framework may not provide these companies with the same degree of operational support.

Nearly all (94 percent) of those that offer broadband serve some portion of their customer base via DSL, with 68 percent deploying fiber to the home or fiber to the curb. Despite the inherent challenges and significant costs associated with fiber deployment, particularly in high-cost rural areas, the 2010 survey revealed a 15 percent net increase in deployment (up from 59 percent one year ago).

Seventy-three percent of respondents offer video service to their customers. More than eight in 10 respondents expect to have a video offering in place by year-end 2012. Nearly all (96 percent) indicated that the main barrier to providing video service is access to reasonably priced programming.

“This survey confirms that despite the uncertainty surrounding the FCC’s national broadband plan recommendations, small rural telcos are working hard to deploy broadband services in their communities,” says NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield. “Policymakers must ensure that support for continued deployment is predictable and sustainable if the country is to truly accomplish the goal of universally available broadband.”

The 2010 survey was sent electronically to all NTCA telco members and 115 companies (23 percent) responded. Forty-seven percent of survey respondents had service areas of 500 square miles or larger, and 31 percent had customer densities of two residential customers per square mile or less.