Rural rate-of-return (ROR) telephone companies, which have been urging full funding of the universal service high-cost fund to support broadband infrastructure for several years, have been fortunate to have continued backing for their cause from members of Congress. This week, a group of 37 House members sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai calling for a “comprehensive FCC review or adjustment of the High-Cost USF budget instructions.”
The letter headed by Representatives Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Collin Peterson (D-MN), was a follow-up to a series of letters from 160 House members and Senators in May, also calling for measures to correct USF funding shortfalls.
“Despite the appearance of surplus funds in the overall budget in prior years, the ROR carriers that benefit from High-Cost USF programs have been subject to strict and separate budget caps under actual cost recovery mechanisms and cost model support. These caps limit broadband infrastructure investments in nearly 40 percent of rural America,” the bipartisan group said.
Prior to the proposed budget review, the letter asks the Commission to maintain the current level of collections from telecommunications carriers for the present. “To the extent that the collected sum exceeds High-Cost USF spending obligations at the time, the FCC should directly apply funds to help mitigate or neutralize the budget constraints applied to these smaller, rural operators,” the Congressmen said.
Simultaneous with the Congressional letter, representatives from NTCA, The Rural Broadband Association, held a telephone meeting with Chairman Pai’s staff to make identical requests.