This week, Representatives Collin Peterson and Kevin Cramer sent a letter urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to address the budget shortfall in the High-Cost Universal Service Fund (USF). The bipartisan letter, signed by 37 Members of Congress, argues that a lack of sufficient funding for rural broadband development puts millions of Americans at a significant disadvantage.
“More than ever, it’s important that we provide rural communities with comparable broadband services for comparable rates,” Peterson said. “We must ensure that the USF fulfills its obligation to provide all Americans with accessible and affordable high-speed connections.”
The letter is increasingly time-sensitive as the FCC considers adjusting the overall USF budget by the end of 2017.
Read the full text of the letter below:
Dear Chairman Pai:
We write to request that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) take action to address the budget shortfall in certain parts of the High-Cost Universal Service Fund (USF). As outlined in a letter sent to you last May by 160 Members of Congress, this lack of sufficient funding puts the rural communities that we represent at a significant disadvantage.
The annual budget instructions through which the High-Cost USF is funded have not been fully utilized since their implementation in 2011. Despite the appearance of surplus funds in the overall budget in prior years, the Rate of Return (ROR) carriers that benefit from High-Cost USF programs have been subject to strict and separate budget caps under actual cost recovery mechanisms and cost model support. These caps limit broadband infrastructure investments in nearly 40 percent of rural America.
Pending comprehensive FCC review or adjustment of the High-Cost USF budget instructions, we strongly urge you to maintain level collections from telecommunications companies into the future. To the extent that the collected sum exceeds High-Cost USF spending obligations at the time, the FCC should directly apply funds to help mitigate or neutralize the budget constraints applied to these smaller, rural operators.
While it is currently unclear how funds that exceed High-Cost USF spending may be obligated under existing budget instructions, their continued collection has the potential to help provide rural communities with comparable broadband services for comparable rates relative to urban areas. In doing so, the country will move closer to the fund’s stated mission to provide all Americans with “accessible, affordable, and pervasive high-speed connectivity.”
Thank you for considering our request. We look forward to working with you to ensure that the “digital divide” does not exclude millions of rural Americans from the services that they, and our economy, depend on.