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Rep. Cramer leads bipartisan broadband message to FCC

Rep. Kevin Cramer
Congressman Kevin Cramer

In May, North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer led the submission of a bipartisan letter with 101 of his colleagues to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The letter emphasizes the importance of maintaining and increasing high-speed broadband in rural America, and was endorsed by the House Rural Broadband Caucus. It was sent to FCC Commissioners Ajit Pai, Michael O’Rielly and Mignon Clyburn, requesting sufficient resources to be made available to the Universal Service Fund (USF) High Cost Program in order to ensure support for broadband deployment in remote and unserved areas of rural America.

“Access to high-speed Internet is no longer a luxury, it’s an absolute necessity to maintain the livelihoods of families in rural America,” Cramer said. “Due to lack of population and costly infrastructure, many areas of our country simply cannot sustain private Internet service providers, which is why the Universal Service Fund is, in many cases, essential for our rural telecom providers. My letter – signed by 102 bipartisan House members – demonstrates the vast support Congress maintains for those living in rural America.”

In 2015, Cramer led a letter with 115 House members asking the FCC to modernize the USF to support options for consumers who want to purchase broadband-only service. The FCC’s old rules tied USF support to a consumer’s purchase of voice, essentially forcing rural Americans to purchase a service they may not want.

The FCC adopted USF reforms last year that cut the tie between voice and broadband and also offered small carriers the option of electing new “model-based” USF support. But, the amount of USF support available through the High Cost Fund, oftentimes forces small carriers to charge more for standalone broadband than most rural consumers can afford. The leaves thousands of rural Americans with slower broadband speeds than intended by the model, or no broadband at all.

The letter from Rep. Cramer and House colleagues asks the FCC to continue modernizing the USF program by cutting red-tape and making it easier for small businesses to utilize USF provisions such as the ability to administer broadband-only service to customers without also forcing them to also have a landline telephone.

“Congressman Cramer's message to the FCC is a sharp reminder of the federal agency’s obligation to responsibly administer a program that tens of millions of rural Americans depend upon to get affordable access to the Internet,” said David Crothers, executive vice president of the North Dakota Association of Telecommunications Cooperatives. 

“Mr. Cramer understands perfectly how critical it is for rural North Dakotans to have affordable broadband to access educational and economic opportunities, as well as healthcare, government and entertainment,” Crothers added.

Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of the NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association, added appreciation for the letter. 

“NTCA is thankful for the leadership shown by Congressman Cramer, his fellow House Rural Broadband Caucus co-chairs Reps. Pocan, Latta, Loebsack, Kinzinger and Welch, and their colleagues in highlighting how an insufficient USF High Cost budget undermines the statutory mission of universal service and the broadband availability and affordability goals of the USF reforms adopted by the FCC last year,” Bloomfield said.

Rep. Cramer serves on the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, which oversees the Federal Communications Commission. He is also a founding co-chair of the House Rural Broadband Caucus, a group launched last year to facilitate discussion by members of Congress and their staff on policy issues to address the digital divide that exists in rural America.