05-21-19 U.S. Senator Bennet Urges FCC Chairman to Reconsider Proposal to Limit Resources for Program Essential to Bridging the Digital Divide Between Rural and Urban Communities

US Senator Bennet Urges FCC Chairman to Reconsider Proposal to Limit Resources for Program Essential to Bridging the Digital Divide Between Rural and Urban Communities

Washington, D.C. – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai urging him to reconsider his reported proposal to cap spending for the Universal Service Fund (USF), the program responsible for increasing access to essential communications services, including broadband, for all Americans. The Commission’s proposal comes at a time when approximately 40percent of rural households in America lack access to broadband.

“In the 21st century, not having access to high-quality broadband is like not having access to electricity: it is vital for a community’s economic development, allowing individuals to work remotely, entrepreneurs to innovate, and businesses to reach distant markets,” Bennet wrote.

USF funds have increased the number of rural libraries with access to high-speed internet, provided benefits of modern telemedicine to rural communities, and equipped rural schools with high-speed broadband needed to create 21st century schools. Because a majority of educators assign homework that requires internet access to complete, students without broadband – many from low-income and rural households – suffer from a “homework gap” between them and their peers with broadband access.

“As our lives become more dependent on access to high-quality broadband, we should be expanding our efforts to close the digital divide, not curtailing them. Placing a cap on the USF is tantamount to placing a cap on opportunity for rural communities across America,” Bennet wrote.“Though there are undoubtedly opportunities to improve efficiency within USF and better prioritize funds, a spending cap is the wrong approach.”

A copy of the letter is available HERE and below:

Dear Chairman Pai:

I write to express my concern over the Commission’s reported proposal to cap spending for the Universal Service Fund (USF). Limiting resources to this crucial program directly conflicts with the Commission’s goal of providing reliable communication services to all Americans.

The mechanisms in place under the USF are vital for bridging the digital divide between rural and urban communities, a goal you often tout. In the 21st century, not having access to high-quality broadband is like not having access to electricity: it is vital for a community’s economic development, allowing individuals to work remotely, entrepreneurs to innovate, and businesses to reach distant markets.

Access to high-speed internet is also vital for a community’s wellbeing. Thanks to USF funds, more rural libraries offer high-speed broadband to local residents; more rural patients enjoy the benefits of modern telemedicine, saving them long drives to see a specialist; and more rural students have access high-speed internet in their school. According to a study done by the Pew Research Center, a vast majority of U.S. educators give assignments that require internet access, creating an unfair “homework gap” between students who have broadband access and those who do not. Capping USF funds would risk extending that gap, along with many others.

As our lives become more dependent on access to high-quality broadband, we should be expanding our efforts to close the digital divide, not curtailing them. Placing a cap on the USF is tantamount to placing a cap on opportunity for rural communities across America. Though there are undoubtedly opportunities to improve efficiency within USF and better prioritize funds, a spending cap is the wrong approach. I ask that you reconsider this proposal.

Sincerely,

Michael Bennet

SOURCE