WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine joined a bipartisan letter calling on Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai to support long-term funding that would make broadband and voice services more accessible and affordable in rural communities. In the letter, the Senators thank the FCC for its work to support rural broadband and request that it prevent upcoming funding cuts to smaller operators that deliver broadband to the country’s most rural communities, which would otherwise go into effect on July 1.
“These recurring budget shortfalls result in lower speeds, more unserved locations, and higher prices for rural consumers and businesses,” the Senators said. “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.”
The FCC fixed the budget shortfall for the Universal Service Fund’s (USF) High-Cost program for the current Fiscal Year, but has not addressed long term funding for the program. The USF program helps to ensure that consumers in rural areas pay comparable rates to those in urban areas by helping rural carriers cover some of their costs. The Senators make the case that funding the program encourages businesses to invest in broadband networks in regions of the country where service is needed, but where deploying broadband is difficult and costly.
Warner and Kaine have been strong supporters of expanding broadband to rural communities in Virginia as Governors and Senators. Last year, Warner and Kaine joined a bipartisan group of colleagues to urge President Trump to include broadband in an infrastructure initiative. In October, Warner and Kainepraised a Senate Democratic proposal to invest $40 billion to build broadband infrastructure necessary to connect over 34 million Americans to high-speed internet. In November, Warner and Kaine announced $6 million in federal funding to construct broadband infrastructure in Buchanan and Scott Counties.
The full text of the Senators’ letter to Chairman Pai is available here and below:
May 15, 2018
The Honorable Ajit Pai
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20554
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.