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Illinois Ag Connection

U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, along with Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), members of the Senate Commerce Committee, Wednesday led a bipartisan group of senators in a letter urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure its commitment to affordable and reliable broadband for consumers in the hardest to reach communities across rural America.

The senators write, "A lack of resources to meet our [shared national broadband] goals is undermining investment and consumer access to affordable broadband across much of rural America. For this reason, we write to encourage the FCC to take the much-needed step of addressing the High-Cost Universal Service Fund (USF) budget shortfall."

"Many of the providers that serve rural consumers and businesses in our states have already begun to feel the pain of an arbitrary budget cap on High-Cost USF support. We urge the FCC to take action as quickly as possible to ensure the High-Cost USF program provides sufficient and predictable support to help deliver affordable, high-quality broadband to rural consumers."

The effort has the support of key industry associations. Shirley Bloomfield, NTCA--The Rural Broadband Association CEO, said, "We are grateful to Sens. Moran, Roberts and Klobuchar for their leadership on rural broadband issues by urging the FCC to address the USF budget shortfall that is hampering the availability and affordability of broadband in rural America. They, and the other members of Congress that signed this letter, understand the critical role of a sufficiently funded high-cost USF program in promoting broadband investment and adoption. "This bipartisan letter, sent at a time where the FCC is evaluating how to address the insufficiency of the current USF budget, highlights the continued dedication of Congress in making sure the USF mechanisms work as intended to prioritize consumers and close the digital divide for rural communities."

Derrick Owens, vice president for government affairs of the Western Telecommunications Alliance (WTA), said, "WTA and its more than 340 small, rural-based telecommunications providers are grateful for the attention that this bipartisan group of Senators have brought to the important issue of rural broadband. The Universal Service Fund has been effective in bringing telecommunications and now broadband service to rural America, but if that is to continue funding must be sufficient and predictable for further broadband buildout and deployment. FCC Chairman Pai recently committed to address the sufficiency of USF and WTA looks forward to working with him and Congress on this matter."

In addition to Roberts, Moran, and Klobuchar, the letter was signed by: Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Angus King (I-Maine), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Luther Strange (R-Ala.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

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