South Dakota Republican U.S. Sen. John Thune and Minnesota Democrat U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar are urging the Federal Communications Commission to prioritize "sustainable" rural broadband technology that will last for years as it looks to allocate $20.4 billion in federal communications funds.
Thune and Klobuchar penned the Monday, Dec. 9, letter as the FCC seeks public comment on its proposed Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, a multibillion-dollar fund that would target 4 million rural homes and small businesses that currently lack modern broadband. The senators said any new broadband infrastructure provided through the program should be "sustainable even as new advancements are made" so rural Americans can access the best broadband available "for many years to come."
“If our rural communities are to survive and flourish, our rural constituents need access to services that are on par with those in urban areas,” the senators wrote. “By contrast, it would be an inefficient use of resources to promote services that cannot keep pace with consumer demand and the evolution of broadband in urban areas."
Both Thune and Klobuchar are members of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Thune chairs the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet. The letter, led by the neighboring senators, was signed by 46 of their bipartisan Senate colleagues.
The senators wrote that the FCC should "make the most efficient and effective use" of its universal service fund, taking into account not only current needs, but also what speeds, latency and usage capacity experts predict to be necessary over the next decade.
They also said rural broadband projects funded through the FCC should be monitored to ensure they "deliver on their promises."
South Dakota and Minnesota have initiated state-funded rural broadband efforts, as well. South Dakota's $5 million grant program leveraged a total $11.4 million in total project costs through public-private partnerships this year, and the Minnesota Legislature approved a $40 million expansion to rural broadband in its Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget. Minnesota Democratic Gov. Tim Walz's administration has also established a broadband task force.