WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), both members of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, introduced the Rural Broadband Protection Act (S.4126), which would require a more thorough vetting and verification process for internet service providers seeking to participate in the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) high-cost programs.

The bill would provide essential safeguards to the Universal Service Funds high-cost programs by ensuring that funding goes to companies with both a proven track record of success and have demonstrated sound judgment in deploying in hard-to-serve areas.

“This bill is a product of many conversations I’ve had with small rural service providers and state and local officials in West Virginia,” Senator Capito said. “The discussions I had with them made it abundantly clear the FCC needs congressional direction to ensure taxpayer money is being used properly to fund broadband deployment in rural areas. By verifying that providers can actually deliver on the promises made to bring high-speed internet to specific areas, we can maximize the influx of broadband dollars coming to West Virginia and move closer toward our goal of closing the digital divide in communities of all sizes across our state.”

“In 2022, we should be able to bring high-speed internet to every community in our country, regardless of their zip code,” Senator Klobuchar said. “This bipartisan legislation will help Americans connect to work, school, health care and business opportunities by ensuring the companies that apply for federal funding to build out broadband infrastructure can get the job done. As co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, I’ll keep fighting to close the digital divide and ensure families across our state can reliably access the high-speed internet they need.”

“Rural Americans deserve high-quality broadband access from providers capable of delivering on the promises they make in taking government funding to do so. NTCA has long advocated for proper vetting of those seeking funding, and on behalf of our small, community-based providers who have a proven track record of offering robust and reliable broadband, I thank Senator Capito for making sure that accountability is top of mind before new funding decisions are made. NTCA endorses this legislation and looks forward to continuing to work with Congress and the FCC to ensure effective use of universal service fund resources,” Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, said.

“Accountability and transparency should be bedrock principles of any government program aimed at closing the digital divide and ensuring that recipients of Universal Service Fund dollars are able to deliver on their deployment commitments is essential. All Universal Service funding applicants should have to undergo a thorough vetting process by the FCC before being awarded money to deploy broadband networks. Thanks to Senators Capito and Klobuchar for their leadership with this legislation to ensure the FCC properly vets USF funding applicants to ensure they can deliver on the promise of closing the digital divide,” USTelecom President and CEO Jonathan Spalter said.

The FCC’s high-cost programs provide funding to telecom carriers to provide service in rural areas where the market alone cannot support the substantial cost of deploying network infrastructure and providing connectivity. Historically, it has subsidized voice service to ensure that rates in rural and urban areas are reasonably comparable. But with a series of reform orders that began in 2011, the FCC is modernizing the High Cost program to support broadband to ensure that all people in America – no matter where they live – have access to robust, affordable connectivity to fully participate in today’s society.

This modernized program is called the Connect America Fund, and it consists of a series of new funds that rely on incentive-based models and competitive bidding to award carriers a set amount of support to build out broadband to a defined number of locations in unserved and underserved areas.

For the full bill text, please click here.


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