Proposed funding cap would harm broadband deployment, rural health care opportunities, classroom learning, and more
Washington (September 19, 2019) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, today led 29 of his Democratic colleagues in calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to discard its proposed cap on the Universal Service Fund (USF). The USF supports four communications programs: E-Rate, Lifeline, the Rural Health Care Fund, and the Connect America Fund. Each of these programs is designed to target separate areas of need, providing broadband to schools and libraries or improving health in rural communities. All of the USF programs have been key to moving the country toward the goal of universal connectivity.
In May, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would set an overall budget cap for these four programs, as well as a combined sub-cap for the E-Rate and Rural Health Care Fund.
“Each program that is a part of USF plays an indispensable role in achieving the ultimate goal of USF, access to communication services for every American,” write the Senators in their letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “The proposal to place a universal cap on these programs is a direct assault on the FCC’s mission of bridging the digital divide. The proposal to combine the sub-caps for the E-Rate and Rural Health Care funds is particularly troubling. None of the USF programs should be pitted against each other and forced to vie for a piece of the pie.”
A copy of the letter can be found HERE.
The letter is also signed by Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-M.D.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Ben Cardin (D-M.D.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bob Casey, Jr. (D-Penn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).
Senator Markey is the author of the original E-Rate program, which was created as a part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. The program is designed to connect schools and libraries to the Internet, as well as ensure access for low-income students and families. Prior to E-Rate, only 14 percent of K-12 classrooms had Internet access. Today, Americans benefit from near ubiquitous deployment.