Wicker Holds Hearing on Using Universal Service Fund to Expand Rural Broadband Service

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, today chaired a hearing to explore using the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Universal Service Fund (USF) to help expand broadband service in rural America.

During the question-and-answer session, Wicker highlighted the importance of FCC’s data collection methods to deploy high-speed broadband in rural areas.

Key excerpts of Wicker’s opening statement include:

“When Congress passed the Telecommunications Act in 1996, it made clear that all Americans should have access to quality communications services at just, reasonable, and affordable rates. From that time, the Universal Service Fund, established by the FCC, has been a primary mechanism for achieving universal communications service across the country. It has supported the deployment of communications networks to rural and remote geographic areas, and it has provided essential support to build-out networks to health-care facilities and other institutions that would likely go without service.”

“Inadequate data collection methods are also one of USF’s challenges, leading to an inefficient distribution of funds to truly underserved and unserved areas. To address this issue, I recently joined Senator Manchin in introducing the “Rural Wireless Access Act,” which has the support of several of my colleagues, including Senators Schatz, Fischer, Klobuchar, Moran, and Peters. This bill would require the FCC to standardize its data collection methods to ensure that USF support is directed to rural communities – in Mississippi and across the nation – that are actually in need.”

“The importance of our efforts to deliver broadband service to rural areas cannot be understated. Job creation, economic development, and access to digital innovation – such as telemedicine, fully self-driving cars, and smart communities – have become increasingly reliant on the presence of high-quality, high-capacity broadband networks. It is imperative for all Americans to have access to the communications services promised by USF programs.”

Witnesses at today’s hearing included:

Mr. Michael Balhoff, CFA, Senior Partner, Charlesmead Advisors, LLC
Ms. Shirley Bloomfield, Chief Executive Officer, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association
Mr. Eric Graham, Senior Vice President, Strategic Relations, C Spire
Dr. Karen Rheuban, Medical Director for the Office of Telemedicine and Director for the Center for Telehealth, University of Virginia