Lawmakers ask FCC to protect rural broadband from new rule

A bipartisan group of 44 representatives and 21 senators signed letters from each body to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski asking the commission avoid proposed rule changes that could imperil the deployment of high speed Internet in rural areas.

The House's letter was circulated by Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo). and signed 43 members who represent mostly rural districts. Luetkemeyer and colleagues reminded Genachowski that the increase in build-out of rural broadband has been "a major source of jobs." But unless the commission provides "more certainty to broadband providers" by avoiding a recently announced proposed rule making, it could harm both consumers and the rural economy.

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“Each day, I meet with constituents from rural America whose lives are enhanced by access to broadband service,” Luetkemeyer said in a statement. “Without such service, they would fall behind in areas such as telemedicine or in long-distance education, where broadband can close the rural-urban education gap and boost communities’ economic development.”

A group of 19 Senators led by Sens. John Thune (R-S.C.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) also called for the FCC to rethink an October, 2011 proposal that could harm rural infrastructure investment. "[U]nintended consequences to all carriers serving rural areas can and should be alleviated by a [clarification] that the [October] Order will not be implemented in a manner that perpetuates unintended consequences," the senators said.

The letter closes by asking that the FCC acknowledge the senators concerns, and "appropriately respond ... to ensure all rural consumers are able to fully participate in the universal communications network Congress has envisioned."

National Telecommunications Cooperative Association CEO Shirley Bloomfield said NTCA welcomes Congressional interest "in ensuring that the substantial changes to essential Universal Service Fund (USF) and intercarrier compensation (ICC) support mechanisms announced last fall by the FCC will be implemented correctly and well-understood, prior to adopting additional changes that may reduce such support even further for small rural carriers."

“These letters to Chairman Genachowski demonstrate the clear support in Congress for ensuring that small, community-based telecommunications providers can continue to attract capital, make sound investments in sustainable broadband networks, and offer advanced services that create jobs and bring needed economic development to our nation’s rural communities.”