Thirty-nine senators press the Federal Communications Commission to address the Universal Service Fund (USF) budget shortfall
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar led a bipartisan group of thirty-nine senators in a letter urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure its commitment to affordable and reliable broadband for consumers in hardest to reach communities across rural America.
“A lack of resources to meet our [shared national broadband] goals is undermining investment and consumer access to affordable broadband across much of rural America. For this reason, we write to encourage the FCC to take the much-needed step of addressing the High-Cost Universal Service Fund budget shortfall,” the senators wrote.
The senators continued, “Many of the providers that serve rural consumers and businesses in our states have already begun to feel the pain of an arbitrary budget cap on High-Cost USF support. We urge the FCC to take action as quickly as possible to ensure the High-Cost USF program provides sufficient and predictable support to help deliver affordable, high-quality broadband to rural consumers.”
In addition to Klobuchar, the letter was signed by Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), John Barrasso (R-WY), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Roy Blunt (R-MO), John Boozman (R-AK), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), John Cornyn (R-TX), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tom Cotton (R-AK), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Steve Daines (R-MT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), John Hoeven (R-ND), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Angus King (I-ME), James Lankford (R-OK), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Patty Murray (D-WA), James Risch (R-ID), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Tim Scott (R-SC), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Luther Strange (R-AL), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Thom Tillis (R-NC).
The effort has the support of key industry associations, including NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association and the Western Telecommunications Alliance.
As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, Klobuchar has been a leader in pushing to expand and improve communications infrastructure in rural areas. Klobuchar, along with Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), introduced the bipartisan Rural Wireless Access Act of 2017 to expand broadband deployment using accurate coverage maps. In April, Klobuchar and Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE) led a bipartisan group of 56 senators in urging the FCC to continue advancing broadband deployment in rural communities by providing strong support for the Universal Service Fund. Earlier this year, Klobuchar and Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced legislation to measure the economic impact of broadband on the U.S. economy. In addition, Klobuchar and Capito, along with Senators Angus King (I-ME), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and John Boozman (R-AR), led 48 senators in urging the President to include broadband in any infrastructure initiative.
Klobuchar has also championed policies to cut red tape by ensuring that states coordinate highway construction projects with broadband providers so that broadband infrastructure can be installed at the same time—known as “dig once”—and to encourage partitioning or disaggregating spectrum licenses to facilitate leasing unused spectrum to rural and smaller carriers and encouraging collaboration between companies to bridge service gaps in rural areas. Both of these bipartisan provisions were included in the Mobile Now Act when it passed the Senate Commerce Committee in January.
The full text of the senators’ letter is below.
We applaud the efforts of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to streamline and strengthen the federal High-Cost Universal Service Fund (USF). This program is critical to achieving our shared national broadband goals and closing the digital divide.
Yet, as we and many others have noted consistently in recent years, a lack of resources to meet these national goals is undermining investment and consumer access to affordable broadband across much of rural America. For this reason, we write to encourage the FCC to take the much-needed step of addressing this USF budget shortfall.
Earlier this year, approximately 160 members of Congress raised similar concerns in letters to the FCC. Since these letters were sent, many providers have continued to experience a significant reduction in support. In the ensuing months, many of us have continued to press the FCC to resolve these concerns. We believe that the FCC is best positioned to identify a solution to the budget shortfall that is limiting access to reliable and affordable broadband in rural communities.
While we recognize that a thoughtful long-term solution to the budget shortfall will take time and effort to identify and assess, many of the small providers that serve rural consumers and businesses in our states have already begun to feel the pain of an arbitrary budget cap on High-Cost USF support. We urge the FCC to take action as quickly as possible to ensure the High-Cost USF program provides sufficient and predictable support to help deliver affordable, high-quality broadband to rural consumers. At a minimum, we ask that you ensure that there is no reduction in funds allocated to or collected for the High-Cost program until you have reached a comprehensive solution to High-Cost funding.
Thank you for your commitment to this important program and the millions of rural consumers who benefit from it. We look forward to both quick action and a comprehensive plan that effectively responds to this crisis.