Bipartisan effort for rural internet access finally receives US Senate hearing

Two years after the bill’s initial introduction, a bipartisan initiative to urge the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to provide internet connectivity to rural areas will finally receive a Senate hearing the week starting Monday, 8 May 2023.

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After two years of waiting, a bipartisan effort to bring internet connectivity to rural areas is set to receive a US Senate hearing in the week beginning 8 May 2023. The Senate Commerce Committee will hear the ‘Reforming Broadband Connectivity Act’ on 11 May, with support from both the House and Senate.

The bill, proposed by Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to update the Universal Service Fund (USF), a system of taxes and subsidies aimed at increasing telecommunications access in the United States. The focus now is on expanding broadband access for rural areas, low-income individuals, and crucial healthcare services, whereas initially, it concentrated on telephone service.

The current funding structure for the USF is facing challenges as traditional long-distance calls decline due to the rising popularity of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and broadband services. As a result, the income pool for the fund is shrinking, creating pressure to increase the contribution factor.

Derrick Owens, senior vice president of the Western Telecommunications Alliance (WTA), emphasized that the current contribution methodology is unsustainable. Mike Romano, executive vice president of the National Telephone Cooperative Association (NTCA), highlighted the need to address this issue to ensure the continuity of the fund.

Additionally, the bill calls for the FCC to consider the impact of any modifications to the fund on older citizens. The existing system disproportionately affects seniors, who have a higher percentage of landlines and rely on traditional long-distance calling.