Finally, FCC Promises Rural Broadband USF Relief

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“In my first remarks to FCC staff as Chairman…I declared that my highest priority would be making sure every American who wants high-speed Internet access can get it. Rural Americans deserve the same digital access as those living in more urban areas.”

So begins Chairman Ajit Pai’s response to an October 30 letter from Congressman John Ratcliffe (R-TX), asking the FCC to assist rural America in achieving “accessible, affordable, and pervasive high speed connectivity.”  The FCC, the Congressman suggested, “should directly apply funds to help mitigate or neutralize the budget constraints applied to…smaller, rural operators.”

Chairman Pai’s answering letter of December 19 conceded that “Due to the complexity of the budget control mechanism, carriers do not have the certainty they need to make the long term investment decisions that will lead to greater connectivity…To address these issues, I plan to circulate in the near future an item that will explore how this situation can be changed and to determine the appropriate budget levels.”

Thankfully, that near future arrived on January 16, less than a month after his response to the Congressman, in the form of an order circulated by Pai to his fellow Commissioners. If adopted, the order will provide over $500 million in much needed additional high cost funding to the nation’s small RLECs. In the words of the Chairman, the $500 million will “boost broadband deployment in rural America and put our high cost system on a more efficient path…”

It may have taken longer than expected, but this USF relief will at least begin to provide the stability and certainty that RLECs have been lacking under the former FCC’s arbitrary budget control mechanism. Hopefully, this will mark the start of a more fair and equitable broadband high cost support system for RLECs.

Thanks to Chairman Pai for his concern and help for the nation’s rural carriers and their customers.