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Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted to approve a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to establish a $20.4 billion rural broadband investment fund, “The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund,” (RDOF) to help close the digital divide. According to the FCC, the fund will “provide funding through a reverse auction to broadband service providers that deploy infrastructure that provides up to gigabit-speed broadband” in rural America.
Public Knowledge supports rural broadband investment but cautions once again that in the absence of clear Title II authority to reform the existing Universal Service Fund to provide stand alone broadband, only Congress can authorize new and sufficient funding.
The following can be attributed to Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge:
“Any real contribution to funding broadband to unserved or underserved Americans deserves applause. But this new proposal deserves, at best, a Nancy Pelosi applause rather than the standing ovation Chairman Pai believes he deserves. It is a good thing for Chairman Pai to propose essentially extending the Obama-era “Connect America Fund” (CAF) under a new name. But whether we call it the Connect America Fund, the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, or some other happy name, we need to recognize that this program won’t be enough to provide all Americans the real broadband they both need and deserve.
“Additionally, Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to cap the Universal Service Fund, the source of money for RDOF, places the future of RDOF at risk. Finally, we need to recognize that while RDOF would cover initial deployments, it does nothing to help rural communities keep pace as urban broadband speeds increase. All this underscores that this is no time to declare ‘Mission Accomplished.’
“Due to this Commission’s abdication of clear authority over broadband, only Congress can provide a real answer to the challenge of providing all Americans affordable access to real broadband. About 85 years ago, members of Congress came together to pass the Communications Act -- a law that put a phone on every farm and made our telephone network the envy of the world. Today, we need members of Congress to put aside partisan differences and build the infrastructure that will literally bring us together as a country and give all Americans the broadband they both need and deserve.”