Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), members of the Senate Commerce Committee, today led 61 senators in a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai, supporting the advancement and the accessibility of broadband services in rural communities.
In the letter, the senators requested more predictable and long-term efficiencies in the FCC’s High-Cost Universal Service Fund, which is responsible for helping meet the Commission’s goal to provide reliable and affordable communications to all Americans. Making sure the USF mechanism works as intended will enable businesses to invest and build out networks in areas lacking broadband services. The program is critical for rural Americans who live in regions of the country where service is needed, but where deploying broadband is difficult and costly.
Fischer and Klobuchar have successfully teamed up on broadband issues in the past. Their Rural Spectrum Accessibility Act, signed into law in March of this year, would boost wireless broadband coverage across rural America. The bill incentivizes wireless carriers to lease unused spectrum to rural or smaller carriers to expand wireless coverage to more rural communities.
A similar letter was led by Reps. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and signed by 130 members of the House of Representatives.
The full text of the senators’ letter to Chairman Pai is included below and the signed letter is available here.
The Honorable Ajit Pai
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, S.W.
Dear Chairman Pai:
We write to express our strong support and sincere gratitude for the recent Order addressing budget shortfalls in the Universal Service Fund’s (USF) High-Cost program. The Order is an essential, immediate step in the right direction, and we now encourage the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to continue down this path by acting quickly on the notice of proposed rulemaking to provide long-term, predictable support. Such additional steps are necessary to ensure rural Americans have access to high quality voice and broadband services.
The FCC’s recent Order approving an infusion of funds into the USF is greatly welcomed, and will provide needed support for small, rural carriers that rely on the High-Cost USF program. Despite this, persistent limitations on resources can affect the ability of smaller broadband providers to deliver services in our country’s most rural communities. The FCC’s cost model for smaller operators electing model-based USF support is not yet funded at the designed levels, and carriers not receiving model-based support will once again face significant funding cuts when the program’s new fiscal year takes effect on July 1, 2018. These recurring budget shortfalls result in lower speeds, more unserved locations, and higher prices for rural consumers and businesses.
Congress has expressed consistent, bipartisan support for addressing shortfalls in the USF program. In April 2017, 58 Senators called on the FCC to provide adequate resources for broadband delivery services to rural consumers in areas that are the hardest and costliest to serve. In May 2017, 102 Representatives wrote to the FCC, expressing similar concerns about the impacts of insufficient USF resources on rural consumers.
We commend the FCC’s actions thus far to address and modernize USF support. Taking action on the notice of proposed rulemaking and establishing lasting solutions that allow the reformed High-Cost mechanism to work as designed would enable many smaller operators to offer high quality, affordable broadband to consumers across rural America. It is important to consider any modifications needed to meet the program’s objectives of ensuring consistent network build-out and strengthening ongoing service, for locations otherwise unserved, in our nation’s high-cost rural areas.
Thank you for the actions you have undertaken thus far to support the USF and for considering this request. We share your goal of eliminating the digital divide and look forward to working with you to maintain accessible, affordable broadband for rural American consumers and businesses.