Collins, King Join Bipartisan Group of Senators to Urge Federal Communications Commission to Ensure Access to Affordable Broadband in Rural Communities

Thirty-nine senators press the Federal Communications Commission to address Universal Service Fund (USF) budget shortfall

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) joined Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Pat Roberts (R-KS), and Jerry Moran (R-KS) as part of 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 in the letter.

 

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.”

 

The effort has the support of key industry associations, including NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association and the Western Telecommunications Alliance.

 

Access to affordable, high-quality broadband is critical to our state's future and economy, and for that reason Senators Collins and King press for laws and regulations that encourage robust broadband investment in rural areas. In February, Senator King joined with Senators Klobuchar, Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and John Boozman (R-AR) to lead a letter in which 48 senators, including Senator Collins, urged the President to include broadband in any infrastructure initiative.  In May 2015, Senators Collins and King signed onto a letter led by Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) to then-FCC Chairman Wheeler urging an update to the USF to support the delivery of communications services to consumers in high-cost areas served by small, rural local exchange carriers so that they have more choice among broadband services.

 

Increasing access to rural broadband is also an integral part of Senator King’s economic agenda to help grow Maine’s rural economy and create jobs. In August, he hosted a listening tour with FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to discuss the importance of rural broadband for rural education, healthcare, and economic growth. Additionally, Senator King is a co-founder of the Senate Broadband Caucus, a bipartisan caucus working group developing solutions and strategies to accelerate broadband deployment in order to strengthen the digital economy and to close the digital divide, especially in rural America.

 

A copy of the senators’ letter can be found here, and the full text is below.

 

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Dear Commissioners:

 

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.