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U.S. Cellular continues rural push

Last week, we learned that U.S. Cellular had been granted the status of Eligible Telecommunications Carrier in West Virginia, which enables them to use the federal Universal Service Fund to create a rural wireless infrastructure in the state. Now the Chicago-based company is doing similar work right in its own backyard. The Illinois Commerce Commission has also deemed U.S. Cellular an ETC. This will allow them to do the same thing they plan to do in West Virginia: Build a network that will reach areas pretty much ignored by larger cell companies.

U.S. Cellular plans to use the USF to build 121 new cell sites throughout rural Illinois over the next five years. Estimates have this covering 2.3 million residents in the state, which is quite a number.

“As Chairman of the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council, one of my primary concerns is the number of people in Illinois who lack adequate telecommunications services,” said [Illinois] Lt. Governor Quinn. “Wireless telecommunications is no longer a luxury to be enjoyed only by our urban residents; it is a fundamental necessity for personal and public safety, tourism, economic growth and long-term infrastructure development. We are proud to welcome U.S. Cellular’s continued investment in our rural communities.”

Couldn’t agree more on that statement. It might not be profitable as networks in more populated areas, but since when is profit more important than the people of this country? U.S. Cellular is one of the only companies stepping up and taking advantage of the Universal Service Fund, which I commend.

However, we might be seeing a cap put on this fund in the future. The FCC has been considering this for a few months, even though it would upset public safety advocates. Of course, the major telecoms would love to put a cap on it, as to reduce their contribution. U.S. Cellular president and CEO John E. Rooney is none too happy about this:

“It is clear that states are doing their part to access this desperately needed federal support, but if the cap goes through, the federal funds necessary to help us expand Illinois’ rural networks could be significantly reduced or indefinitely delayed. It’s up to the FCC, now, to do right by rural Americans and continue to provide USF support at sufficient levels so that we can bring the same benefits to Illinois that we have brought to every state where we have received USF support.”

We can only hope that the good guys win on this.

[CNN Money]