WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, today sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai requesting that the commission set aside funding within the Mobility Fund Phase II for areas with unique topography and difficult-to-serve locations like West Virginia. This action comes ahead of FCC official Michael Janson’s visit to West Virginia tomorrow. Senator Capito will join Janson, the FCC’s deputy director of the Rural Broadband Auctions Taskforce, and others at BridgeValley Community and Technical College in South Charleston to discuss the Mobility Fund Phase II challenge process.

“Through efforts like my Capito Connect plan, my committee assignments, and other legislative solutions, I have developed a strong partnership with the FCC—particularly when it comes to improving access to rural broadband,” Senator Capito said. “Our strong relationship is important in my efforts to close the digital divide in West Virginia, and I am thrilled to welcome the FCC back to the Mountain State tomorrow. I look forward to discussing ways we can better connect our rural communities and the parts of our state that face difficulty connecting to the internet due to our mountainous geography. This is something Chairman Pai has experienced firsthand during his visits with me to West Virginia, and we are both committed to ensuring that West Virginia does not fall behind when it comes to connectivity. Today’s letter, coupled with tomorrow’s discussion, is a step toward bridging the digital divide that exists in our state.”   

Through her Capito Connect plan and her work as a co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, Senator Capito has long made improving access to broadband in West Virginia and across the country a priority. As former chair of the Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the FCC and a current member of the Commerce Committee, Senator Capito has worked closely with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to help close the digital divide.

The full text of Senator Capito’s letter to Chairman Pai is available here and below.

Dear Chairman Pai,

The Federal Communications Commission plays an imperative and unique role in addressing the telecommunication concerns across the United States, but especially in rural America. In the 21st century economy, robust telecommunications networks are imperative for the foundation of future innovations. I applaud the Commission's steadfast commitment to supporting broadband deployment and accelerating the deployment of wireless services to unserved communities.

The second phase of the Commission's Mobility Fund (MF-II) is $4.53 billion in support over the next 10 years. At 38%, my home state of West Virginia has one of the highest number of eligible MF-II areas in the country, demonstrating a need for significant public and private investment. According to the Commission's most recent broadband progress report, West Virginia ranked 43rd for overall broadband deployment and nearly last for Mobile LTE access.

Congress has expressed consistent, bipartisan support for addressing the need for more reliable broadband data collection. Accurate broadband data collection processes can be especially challenging for rural communities with large, topographically diverse census blocks where only a small portion of the block may have reliable service. I am encouraged by the recently announced process to challenge presumptively ineligible communities to receive support. This will allow parties to challenge the current data and provide a clearer picture of broadband access throughout the country.

Because of your visits to our beautiful, mountainous state, I know that you've seen firsthand the topographical challenges we face. In parts of the country where topography makes deploying and maintaining broadband networks a significant challenge, standalone support will help bring enormous economic benefits for rural consumers. Unlike areas of the country that are relatively flat, the mountainous terrain of Appalachia can necessitate more tower installations to ensure that communities have access to service. This, in turn, makes the deployment of service much more expensive and time-consuming for providers.

I am concerned that if topography is not taken into consideration, areas of the country like West Virginia risk being left behind as providers could naturally gravitate toward locations where it's more economically viable to serve. Because this is a 10-year program, I want to assure that locations that are currently eligible and locations that may become eligible through the challenge process are adequately funded by a formula adopted by the Commission that takes topography into consideration.

Therefore, I am asking that you set aside funding within the Mobility Fund II for unique topography and difficult locations, like West Virginia, when you release the auction procedures later this year. I am committed to ensuring that rural, mountainous states like West Virginia do not fall further behind and that less expensive networks over flatter terrain are not prioritized over another because of topography.

Thank you for your dedication to rural broadband deployment and for your consideration of this matter. 

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