Broadband issues are getting some extra support in the U.S. Senate. A group of bipartisan senators formed the Senate Broadband Caucus this week, a group that will work on broadband policy to improve infrastructure deployment, the digital divide, and rural access. Also this week, Caucus members along with other U.S. senators, sent a formal Senate to FCC on rural broadband to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for their recent rate-of-return reforms.
Five senators formed the caucus, including Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Angus King (ME), Amy Kobuchar (MN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), and John Boozman (AR). Senator Capito’s statement read, “For every $5 billion invested in broadband infrastructure, 250,000 jobs are created and with every percentage point increase in new broadband distribution, employment expands by 300,000 jobs.”
A few broadband interest groups have expressed their support of the Senate Broadband Caucus. The Schools Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB) released a statement from Executive Director John Windhausen. SHLB expressed their support of the caucus, and reminded stakeholders of the importance community anchor institutions will play in expanding access, saying, “Broadband policy sometimes focuses on business and residential users without recognizing anchor institution’s broadband needs. Schools, libraries, health providers, public housing, public media and anchor institutions have the power to connect entire communities, especially in rural areas where service providers may find in difficult to build to every home.”
The Rural Broadband Association (NTCA) also expressed their support. President Shirley Bloomfield commented, “Robust, reliable and affordable broadband becomes more essential to the quality of life in rural America each day. NTCA and its members are thankful for these senators who represent large rural areas and understand the importance of available and sustainable broadband to residents and businesses.”
In addition to the announcement of the Broadband Caucus, all five member senators signed on to a letter sent to the FCC. The letter, addressed to Chairman Tom Wheeler, was signed by 20 senators in total and expressed appreciation for the FCC’s recent rate-of-return reforms. The senators, all from states with high levels of agricultural activity, praised the standalone broadband option that will be available for rate-of-return carriers, anticipating it will help rural areas keep pace with urban areas. The letter also encouraged continued efforts to reform the Universal Service Fund and create more support for improved mobile broadband in rural areas.
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