US Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) signed on to a bipartisan letter to the Federal Communications Commission urging them to modernize the Universal Service Fund (USF). Currently, USF is tied to customers subscribing to landlines, a service that slowly going extinct as more people “cut the cord”. The letter sent to Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Mignon Clyburn argues that current rules force rural customers to sign up for services that they either may not want or may not need.
Rural broadband has been brought up closer to the limelight with a study committee created by the Georgia General Assembly tour the state and study the issue. No legislation was passed this year on the state level addressing the matter, but Senator Isakson presses the issue on the federal level with this letter to the FCC:
“Rural Georgians have been waiting too long for the FCC to address this issue,” said Isakson. “Standalone Internet services should be available to all Americans at this point, and dependable rural access to broadband services are a necessity in this day and age, not a luxury.”
Commissioner O’Rielly, you may remember, is hesitant on expanding the federal funding of broadband expansion in the United States, and I understand his reasoning. We’ve written about Windstream being caught in the crosshairs of Congressman Doug Collins. Windstream currently receives federal funding to provide broadband to rural areas, but the promised speeds are lacking and the service is poor.
The letter, signed by 56 senators, follows a similar letter that was sent back in May 2015 signed on by 61 senators and 115 US representatives. You can read the full letter to the FCC in full below the fold.
The Honorable Ajit Pai, Michael O’Rielly, and Mignon Clyburn Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street SW
Washington, DC 20554
Dear Chairman Pai, Commissioner O’Rielly, and Commissioner Clyburn:
We write to encourage the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to continue working to advance broadband deployment in high-cost rural areas to give rural Americans the opportunity to obtain affordable broadband.
Congress has expressed broad support for modernizing the federal Universal Service Fund (USF) toward this goal. On May 6, 2014, 133 Members of Congress-44 Senators and 89 House Members – signed bipartisan letters calling on the FCC to make tailored modifications to USF support for the delivery of broadband services to consumers in high-cost areas of the United States served by small, rural rate-of-return-regulated local exchange carriers. Similar letters were sent in May 2015 by more than 176 Members of Congress, including 61 Senators and 115 House Members.
The shared concern expressed in those letters was that rural consumers who wished to “cut the cord” on traditional voice “plain old telephone service” (POTS) and opt instead to obtain only fixed broadband services could not do so. As those letters noted, the FCC’s old rules unfortunately tied USF support to a consumer’s purchase of POTS, making it impossible for millions of rural consumers to obtain affordable “standalone broadband” without buying traditional telephone service as well.
We appreciate the steps taken by the FCC last year to address this concern. However, we are still hearing frustration about the prices for and the availability of standalone broadband. Many operators remain unable or unwilling to offer such broadband because their prices would still be unreasonably high even after the reforms. Other operators may offer standalone broadband, but the costs they are forced to recover from rural consumers far exceed what urban consumers would pay for the same service.
All this means that, despite the reforms last year, millions of rural consumers are still not seeing widespread affordable standalone broadband services due to insufficient USF support. Meanwhile, the limited USF budget also reduced the amount of funding available to carriers electing new “model-based” USF support, resulting in tens of thousands of rural consumers receiving slower broadband speeds than intended by the model or not gaining access to broadband at all.
We are concerned that the lack of sufficient resources in the reformed High-Cost mechanism may be undermining the desired effect of the reforms and falling short of the statutory mandate that reasonably comparable services at reasonably comparable rates be available to rural and urban Americans alike. We therefore encourage you to consider any changes to the High-Cost mechanism that may be necessary to ensure it can achieve the goal of making affordable broadband available to Americans in high-cost rural areas.
Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure rural American consumers and businesses have access to quality, affordable broadband.