U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar has urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to expand access to reliable, high-speed mobile broadband in rural America. According to the FCC, 87 percent of rural Americans lack access to mobile broadband with minimum advertised speeds of 10 Mbps/1 Mbps, compared to 45 percent of those living in urban areas. Without the certainty that mobile broadband infrastructure will be deployed and maintained, investments in rural productivity could be delayed or bypassed altogether. In a letter to Chairman Tom Wheeler, Klobuchar and a bipartisan group of senators asked the FCC to retain and update the Universal Service Fund’s Mobility Fund to ensure that funding will promote new mobile broadband deployment in underserved rural and agricultural areas and preserve and upgrade mobile broadband where it is currently unavailable.
“Significant work remains to ensure that broadband services are available in rural America and reasonably comparable to services enjoyed in urban areas,” the lawmakers wrote. “Simply stated, broadband, particularly high-speed mobile broadband, is not readily available in many rural areas or could be at risk absent the right policies and support through the Universal Service Fund. [The Mobility Fund] should be retained and updated to ensure that funding will promote new mobile broadband deployment in unserved rural and agricultural areas and preserve and upgrade mobile broadband where it is currently available.”
Klobuchar, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, is a leader in promoting widespread broadband access. She led a bipartisan letter with Senator John Thune (R-SD) and 59 other senators calling on the FCC to modernize rules intended to ensure that Americans in rural areas have access to affordable broadband services. She has introduced the bipartisan Rural Spectrum Accessibility Act with Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE) to increase wireless broadband access in rural communities by providing incentives for wireless carriers to lease unused spectrum to rural or smaller carriers. She authored the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act to require states to simultaneously install broadband conduits as part of certain federal transportation projects, including building a new highway or adding a new lane or shoulder to an existing highway. The president issued an executive order in 2012 that included an initiative known as “Dig Once” that was derived from this legislation. She also submitted comments to the federal Broadband Opportunity Council in June 2015.
In addition to Klobuchar, the letter was signed by Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Roy Blunt (R-MO), John Boozman (R-AR), Richard Burr (R-NC), Shelley Moore Capito, (R-WV), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Steve Daines (R-MT), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Heidi Heitkamp, (D-ND), Ron Johnson, (R-WI), Angus King (I-ME), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Claire McCaskill, (D-MO), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Gary Peters (D-MI), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Thom Tillis (R-NC), David Vitter (R-LA), Mark Warner, (D-VA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
The full text of the letter is found below:
Dear Chairman Wheeler:
As representatives of states with significant agricultural activity, we share the goal of ensuring that access to high-quality communications networks in rural America remains a top priority for the Commission.
More than ever before, U.S. farmers and ranchers are demanding reliable, high-speed mobile broadband services. Mobility is essential for new precision agriculture technologies to deliver productivity gains and environmental sustainability. These technologies are transforming U.S. agriculture as American farmers and ranchers seek to feed, fuel, and clothe an ever-increasing global population using limited land, water, and other resources.
We applaud the Commission’s recent decision to allow rate-of-return carriers to access support for “standalone” broadband facilities. This step will help encourage carriers to deploy modern broadband-capable wireline networks in rural areas. Importantly, this is necessary as consumers increasingly rely on wireless services and are “cutting the cord” to shift away from wireline voice. Soaring mobile broadband relies on sufficient backhaul, often provided by these wireline networks. Going forward, sufficient support must also be available to preserve and expand mobile voice and broadband.
Significant work remains to ensure that broadband services are available in rural America and reasonably comparable to services enjoyed in urban areas. Simply stated, broadband, particularly high-speed mobile broadband, is not readily available in many rural areas or could be at risk absent the right policies and support through the Universal Service Fund (USF). While progress has been made in the deployment of broadband, significant portions of rural areas have been left behind. According to the FCC, 87 percent of rural Americans (52.2 million) lack access to mobile broadband with minimum advertised speeds of 10 Mbps/1 Mbps, compared to 45 percent of those living in urban areas.
Without the certainty that essential mobile broadband infrastructure will be deployed and maintained, investments in agricultural productivity will be delayed or bypassed altogether, and the potential efficiencies and benefits to rural communities will be lost. The extension of high-speed mobile and backhaul facilities to agricultural croplands and ranch lands must keep pace with the ongoing deployment of technology in the field. Increasing numbers of modems in the field means a growing demand for connectivity in the areas in which they operate.
The expansion of rural broadband should be a top priority of federal and state policymakers, as expanded de
ployment in rural areas will address important economic, educational, health care, and public safety goals. Ongoing USF reform can provide a mechanism for enabling mobile broadband access in rural communities where “people live, work, and travel” that is truly comparable to broadband services provided in urban and suburban areas. To accomplish this goal, USF should support mobile broadband at a minimum of today’s level to close the coverage gap while preserving existing service.
In this regard, we ask you to give special attention as you work to establish Phase II of the USF’s Mobility Fund (MF). Given the importance of mobile services today, the MF should be retained and updated to ensure that funding will promote new mobile broadband deployment in unserved rural and agricultural areas and preserve and upgrade mobile broadband where it is currently available. Importantly, the FCC must rely on realistic measurements of network experience on the ground to determine areas to support.
Croplands and ranch lands have lagged behind in adequate mobile coverage, even as demand for coverage has grown. To address this coverage gap, we urge you to consider a metric of broadband access in croplands (and farm buildings), or some other geographic measurement, in addition to road miles, to identify these areas of greatest need. “Cropland” coverage can be assessed using United States Department of Agriculture data for crop operations, the United States Geological Survey’s Land Use classification, or other databases.
Agriculture is a significant generator of economic activity in our states. We greatly appreciate your efforts to ensure that the latest mobile broadband services are provided to all Americans, including those in agriculture whose livelihoods depend on it.