WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), John Thune (R-SD), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), and Jerry Moran (R-KS) reintroduced bipartisan legislation to expand broadband access to rural communities. The Reforming Broadband Connectivity Act would strengthen funding mechanisms for the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Universal Service Fund (USF), which promotes universal access to broadband and other telecommunications services. Currently, the USF is primarily funded through landline fees, disproportionately impacting seniors, who are more likely to use landlines than other Americans. 

“In 2023, we should be able to bring high-speed internet to every family in America — regardless of their zip code,” said Klobuchar. “Our bipartisan legislation will ensure we have the resources in place to continue expanding access to broadband while relieving the burden of fees on consumers, especially our seniors. As co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, I’ll keep fighting to close the digital divide and help all Minnesotans reliably access the high-speed internet they need.”

“It is crucial that rural communities across South Dakota have access to reliable broadband services,” said Thune. “For years I have fought for predictable and sufficient support for broadband providers to help enable the continued deployment of these services throughout our communities. The FCC’s Universal Service Fund has played an important role in expanding broadband access, and this legislation would ensure it remains sustainable in the future.”  

“We’re connecting every house in America to affordable, high-speed internet, including all of our rural communities,” said Hickenlooper. “Strengthening the Universal Service Fund will help us expand reliable internet access to those rural communities faster.”

“Rural communities rely on broadband services to run their businesses, access telehealth services and pursue college degrees,” said Moran. “This legislation will help provide stability and certainty to FCC’s Universal Service Fund which provides broadband services across the country, including in rural America.”

The Reforming Broadband Connectivity Act would direct the FCC to initiate a rulemaking process to reform the contributions system, taking into account the fairness and the relative burden any changes in fees will have on consumers and businesses, as well as the impact the proposed changes to the contribution system will have on seniors. Companion legislation was introduced by a bipartisan group in the House of Representatives led by Representative Joe Neguse (D-CO).

“Access to broadband internet is critical for Americans across the nation—and too many in our rural and urban communities lack the broadband infrastructure to stay connected. Connectivity ensures individuals can do their jobs, thrive in school, access health care, and so much more,” said Neguse. “By reintroducing our bill, the Reforming Broadband Connectivity Act, we are recommitting ourselves to connecting all communities and ensuring that federal agencies are using all tools at their disposal to expand access to broadband and other telecommunications services.”

The legislation is endorsed by the National Telephone Cooperative Association (NTCA)– The Rural Broadband Association, WTA – Advocates for Rural Broadband, USTelecom, and the Minnesota Telecom Alliance.

“NTCA?applauds?the leadership of Senators Klobuchar and Thune in seeking to chart a course for steadier long-term support of USF programs and promote achievement of our country’s universal service mission,” said NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield.?“As we continue to rely on broadband for just about every aspect of daily life, including working and learning remotely, the Universal Service Fund is key to making?critical communications?services both available and affordable. Efforts to?examine and?address?continuing erosion in the system that funds?the USF will be essential to achieve and sustain a shared vision of universal connectivity. We are therefore pleased to endorse the?Reforming Broadband Connectivity Act.”

“WTA supports the introduction of the Reforming Broadband Connectivity Act and all efforts to modernize the Universal Service Fund contributions system. It makes no sense to solely rely on assessments on long-distance voice revenue for contributions to USF to pay for what is now a broadband-focused fund,” said Derrick Owens, Senior Vice President of Government and  Industry Affairs, WTA - Advocates for Rural Broadband. “While the FCC has the authority to expand the contributions base and put the Fund on a sustainable path for the future, it has chosen not to do so. Congress should pass this legislation to require the FCC to act.”

“Ensuring broadband service in the most remote, hardest-to-serve areas requires a sustainable Universal Service Fund with a sustainable funding formula. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) recognize that the contribution mechanism must be reformed to preserve connectivity for rural Americans. Directing the FCC to initiate a rulemaking to expand the contributions base will help secure the future of universal service,” said USTelecom Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Brandon Heiner.

“Everyone knows that we need to modernize the contribution base of the Universal Service Fund (USF), the Minnesota Telecom Alliance (MTA) is so very grateful for Senator Klobuchar’s leadership to actually get it done.  Rural schools, libraries, hospitals, and consumers may not know it, but they depend on the USF to provide affordable services equal to their urban counterparts.  Senator Klobuchar’s bill is crucial to ensure the Universal Service Fund is around for future generations,” said Brent Christensen, President and CEO of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance. 

As co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, Klobuchar has led efforts to expand broadband access, support rural broadband, and bridge the digital divide. Her legislation with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) to expand high-speed internet nationwide served as the basis for major broadband funding included in the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act

Last month, Klobuchar introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) to strengthen broadband access for rural communities. The Rural Broadband Protection Act will ensure that providers applying for federal funding can reliably deliver broadband to underserved, rural communities. 

In March 2022, Klobuchar and Thune led a bipartisan group of colleagues, in urging the FCC to provide rural communities with guidance on their broadband funding status. 

In July 2021, Klobuchar introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to expand rural broadband access by streamlining the funding process and removing barriers for broadband connectivity in hard-to-serve rural areas.

In December 2020, several of Klobuchar’s key broadband priorities were signed into law as part of the year-end omnibus package passed by the Senate. These provisions included funding to:

  • Ensure students with the greatest financial need can access high-speed internet (based off of Klobuchar’s Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act);
  • Implement the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act, bipartisan legislation to improve the accuracy of the FCC’s broadband availability maps, which was signed into law in March of 2020; and
  • Ensure federal funds for broadband deployment target unserved and underserved areas by directing the FCC, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to coordinate and share information on their broadband deployment efforts, a priority Smith has also advocated for.