Senators Renew Efforts to Close the Rural Broadband Gap

Wicker, Manchin Lead Bipartisan Call to Expand Mobile Network in Rural America

February 2, 2017

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., today sent a letter to the new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai asking him to prioritize mobile broadband deployment in rural and underserved areas. Specifically, the Senators are calling on the agency to move forward with Phase II of the Universal Service Fund’s (USF) Mobility Fund, which is aimed at providing broadband service to these areas.

“We need to continue moving the needle on broadband deployment in hard-to-reach areas, such as rural Mississippi,” said Wicker, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet. “Providing this access promotes business innovation and job creation. This is especially important for small businesses, which support tens of thousands of Mississippi families.”

“Access to reliable high-speed mobile broadband in rural America is both a requirement of universal service and a necessity for job growth, quality healthcare, and public safety,” Manchin said. “I look forward to learning more about the FCC’s plan to ensure Mobility Fund Phase II will work for the most rural and remote areas of the country.”

In addition to Wicker and Manchin, the letter was signed by Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Michael F. Bennet, D-Colo., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Richard Burr, R-N.C., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Bob Casey, D-Pa., Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Deb Fischer, R-Neb., Al Franken, D-Minn., Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Dean Heller, R-Nev., John Hoeven, R-N.D., Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Angus King, I-Maine, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Gary Peters, D-Mich., Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Thom Tillis, R-N.C., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Todd Young, R-Ind.

The full text of the letter is found below:

February 2, 2017

The Honorable Ajit Pai, Chairman
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20554

As you begin your tenure as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), we urge your continued focus on ensuring access to mobile broadband services in rural America and closing the digital divide as a top priority for the Commission.

We appreciate your keen understanding of the benefits that mobile broadband brings to rural America, allowing “anyone, anywhere [to] innovate and succeed.” Reliable high-speed mobile broadband is critical to advancing telehealth services, precision agriculture, economic opportunities, education, public safety, and an ever growing list of new innovations and applications. It is necessary for our constituents, living in some of the most remote and rural areas, to participate in today’s digital economy.

We support your efforts to close the digital divide for low-income and rural Americans. Going forward, these efforts must include removing barriers to broadband deployment and promoting innovation, as well as adopting a Universal Service Fund (USF) Mobility Fund Phase II (MFII).

As you move forward with MFII, we ask that your efforts help to incent wireless carriers to preserve, upgrade, and expand mobile broadband in rural America, rather than degrade and reduce competition in areas that need it most. Competing in a capital-intensive environment, wireless carriers need long-term certainty of ongoing support to invest, deploy, maintain, and update their networks that provide vital mobile broadband services in rural areas. As the best example, certainty should come in the form of sufficient and predictable USF support in both the implementation of MFII and the transition away from legacy support mechanisms over the next several years.

Under your leadership, we urge the Commission to meet its statutory directive and ensure that the latest mobile broadband services are available across the nation, especially in rural America, and we thank you for your attention to this critically important issue.