Thune Criticizes FCC Over Rural Broadband Funding

Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-SD) lambasted the FCC in a hearing on rural broadband yesterday. He called for immediate action to ensure there’s enough funding to help carriers deploy broadband in rural areas, including tribal land.

Specifically, he said it’s been more than a year since the Commissioners gave the committee an economic analysis of the impact of Universal Service Fund cuts on rural broadband deployment “before allowing any further reduction in the percentage of cost recovery for high cost areas.” Thune called it “unacceptable” the agency “has not conducted an analysis of what insufficient and unpredictable funding is doing to the companies trying to deploy broadband under some of the most difficult circumstances in America.” Thune said the agency’s budget cuts have increased by almost 25 percent in that time.

An agency spokesman told Politico, the “the last Administration’s budget control mechanism stymied efforts to close the digital divide in rural America” and that is why Chairman Ajit Pai “hopes his colleagues will join him later this year in establishing a sufficient and predictable budget so that those in rural communities are not left behind any longer.”  

Thune, however, said he was “heartened” to hear the Commission plans for the Remote Areas Fund auction for high-cost areas.

The FCC has taken several steps to close the digital divide. It’s providing about $6 billion in Connect America and Mobility fund subsidies for broadband in unserved areas. That will include $340 million to bring 4G to Tribal lands, reported Broadcasting and Cable.   

Committee member Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said during yesterday’s hearing: “Ten years ago, people just wanted to have email. Now, they need broadband for smart agriculture” and other applications. “In Minnesota, one out of four households lacks broadband access.” She said a tribal member told her when one of their households got WiFi, “fifteen kids were in the yard doing their homework.” She spoke of farmers who need to go into town to conduct business, and a doctor in rural Minnesota who needed to drive to a McDonalds to handle an emergency call. “This shouldn’t be happening in the United States,” said Klobuchar.

October 5, 2018

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