WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus, and Senator John Thune (R-SD) led a bipartisan group of colleagues in urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to provide rural communities with guidance on when they will receive Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) funding through awarded broadband providers.
Last January, Klobuchar and Thune led a bipartisan, bicameral letter pressing the FCC to ensure that broadband providers who received RDOF funding were capable of delivering reliable broadband service. However, the FCC has yet to determine if many providers are authorized to receive this funding, meaning that some rural communities are left without reliable broadband access and concerned they may not be able to access other federal broadband funding programs.
“While we appreciate that the FCC has taken action to strengthen oversight of this program, including announcing a new Rural Broadband Accountability Plan, there are several communities in our states that still lack certainty about the status of their RDOF provider for a variety of reasons, the senators wrote to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Communities in our states need clear and timely guidance from the FCC that help them to understand the federal funding resources available to them and their eligibility to access different federal resources in order to leverage these historic investments in broadband.”
The RDOF helps bring high-speed fixed broadband service to rural homes and businesses, a vital need given the approximate 42 million Americans and 144,000 Minnesotan households who still lack reliable broadband access.
In addition to Klobuchar, the letter was signed by Senators John Thune (R-SD), Tina Smith (D-MN), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Jerry Moran (R-KS).
As co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, Klobuchar has been a national leader in efforts to expand broadband access 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.
Klobuchar also secured significant federal funding as part of the government funding package to expand broadband access for rural communities in Northeast Minnesota. She also led successful efforts to resolve a dispute regarding Red River Communications, helping bring high-speed Internet access to rural communities in the Red River Valley.
In November, she and Thune introduced bipartisan legislation to expand rural broadband access by strengthening the funding mechanisms for the USF, which promotes universal access to broadband and other telecommunications services.
In 2019, Klobuchar and Thune also urged the FCC to promote the deployment of sustainable broadband networks as they considered adopting new rules for RDOF funding.
The full text of the letter is available HERE and below:
Dear Chairwoman Rosenworcel:
We write to you regarding the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) and request information on actions the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is taking to ensure that the remaining long-form applications to be reviewed by the FCC are evaluated in a timely mannerand to provide communities with certainty about the status of their RDOF provider.
Broadband internet is essential for American participation in more and more aspects of everyday life. Approximately 42 million Americans lack reliable broadband access. This is especially significant in rural populations, where an estimated 22 percent of households lack broadband at baseline speeds. This is why Congress has provided additional funding to build out broadband to reach unserved areas and underserved areas.
However, we are hearing from many of our rural constituents who are concerned that they will not be able to benefit from federal funding opportunities because they are still waiting for the FCC to confirm whether certain winning bidders should be authorized to receive RDOF fundingin Phase I.
As you know, the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund was intended to bring high-speed fixed broadband service to rural homes and businesses. Last January, we, along with 158 Senators and Representatives, wrote to urge the FCC to thoroughly vet the winning bidders to ensure that they are capable of deploying and delivering the services they committed to providing. Since our letter last year, the FCC has announced that it continues to carefully review long-form applications of winning bidders to ensure they meet the technical, financial, and operational capabilities to comply with program obligations. Just last month, the FCC announced the sixth wave of RDOF funding, authorizing $1.2 billion to fund new broadband deployments in 32 States.
While we appreciate that the FCC has taken action to strengthen oversight of this program, including announcing a new Rural Broadband Accountability Plan, there are several communities in our states that still lack certainty about the status of their RDOF provider for a variety of reasons, ranging from questions surrounding eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC) designation to ongoing scrutiny of individual applications that warrant more thorough examination. These communities are concerned that the lack of clarity regarding whether these application will be authorized might undermine their ability to obtain funding through other federal broadband deployment programs. Communities in our states need clear and timely guidance from the FCC that help them to understand the federal funding resources available to them and their eligibility to access different federal resources in order to leverage these historic investments in broadband.
We therefore ask that the FCC provide responses to the following questions by Friday, April 8:
- The FCC has moved to default the bids of entities that failed to demonstrate eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC) designation, while approving deadline waiver requests of others. Has the FCC defaulted all remaining winning bidders for states in which that entity failed to obtain ETC status? Do any areas remain pending in RDOF Phase I where the winning bidder has failed to obtain ETC designation?
- Is the FCC coordinating with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Department of Treasury, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other federal agencies as it pertains to other federal programs that could be used to serve areas still pending RDOF authorization?
- In the event that the FCC rejects a winning bidder’s long-form application in RDOF Phase I, how does the FCC plan to redistribute those funds and address the lack of service in the affected areas?
Thank you for your attention to this matter, and we look forward to continuing to work with you to develop and implement programs to close the digital divide.