U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, this week sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai requesting information on accelerating the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase I auction.

The FCC estimates 18.3 million Americans lack access to fixed broadband. To address this gap, the FCC created the RDOF, which will distribute $20.4 billion over ten years to support broadband deployment in unserved areas. The FCC plans to begin RDOF Phase I, which will make $16 billion available for broadband services, in October 2020.

Excerpt from the letter:

Access to high-speed broadband is critical for Americans in this digital age. Increasingly work, school, health care, and connecting with loved ones take place online in a digital format. This trend has only accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, far too many Americans remain unconnected. The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC or Commission) 2020 Broadband Deployment Report estimates that 18.3 million Americans still lack access to a fixed broadband connection.

I welcome the FCC’s ongoing efforts to close the digital divide. For example, the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) will provide $20.4 billion in support to broadband providers over 10 years to help accelerate the availability of fixed internet services in unserved areas. Likewise, the FCC’s upcoming $9 billion 5G Fund is an important program designed to help millions of rural and underserved Americans gain access to reliable mobile broadband services.

However, given the current increased need for reliable internet during the pandemic, broadband funding, particularly through the RDOF program, may not come soon enough. I have heard from a number of Mississippi broadband providers that are ready to begin deploying in unserved areas, but cannot act until they receive this critical support. This situation is not unique to Mississippi.

To read the full letter, click here.