U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), and John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) recently introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen the funding mechanisms for the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Universal Service Fund (USF), which promotes universal access to broadband and other telecommunications services.
“It is crucial that rural communities across South Dakota have access to reliable broadband services,” said Thune. “For years I have fought for predictable and sufficient support for broadband providers to help enable the continued deployment of these services throughout our communities. I’m proud to support this legislation that builds on those efforts to ensure that the FCC’s Universal Service Fund remains sustainable in the future.”
The USF – which includes programs to support broadband access in rural communities, facilitate rural health care, and expand access to affordable broadband service for low-income families, schools, and libraries – is largely funded by fees imposed on landlines. As the use of landlines continues to decline, this places a disproportionate impact on seniors, who are significantly more likely to use a landline than younger adults.
The Reforming Broadband Connectivity Act directs the FCC to initiate a rule making proceeding to reform the contributions system, taking into account the fairness and the relative burden any changes in fees will have on consumers and businesses, as well as the impact the proposed changes to the contribution system will have on seniors.
The Reforming Broadband Connectivity Act builds on several efforts by Senators Thune and Klobuchar to modernize the FCC’s USF’s High Cost Program. In May 2014 and May 2015, Senators Thune and Klobuchar called on then-FCC Chairman Wheeler to modernize support for rural broadband carriers by allowing carriers to be eligible for support under the USF when providing broadband-only services to consumers. In December 2019, Senators Thune and Klobuchar led nearly half of their Senate colleagues in urging then-FCC Chairman Pai to prioritize sustainable rural broadband networks when the FCC established the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) proceeding – the most recent round of funding made available in the High Cost Program. In January 2021, Senators Thune and Klobuchar urged then-FCC Chairman Pai to redouble its efforts to review applicants in the RDOF, consistent with the goals of the USF High Cost Program.