Dear President Obama,
I applaud your many efforts to focus attention on the needs of rural America, including additional job creation and economic development. These include your goal of ensuring all rural American citizens, businesses and governments have access to affordable broadband service. The Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service has played a very important part in this effort.
Unfortunately, recent actions by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are resulting in mixed messages about the federal government’s commitment to broadband in rural America.
The FCC is implementing policies that change programs that are essential to promoting the availability and affordability of broadband services in rural areas. In many remote parts of the country, small, independent carriers are the only source of voice, data and video services and are key players in their local economies.
However, rather than implementing policies to promote the deployment of new or upgraded broadband services in these areas, the FCC last fall mandated cuts to existing programs. These cuts mean increased prices for consumers, deferred maintenance, delayed deployment of faster broadband networks and reduced access to lifesaving public safety and health care services.
Even worse, the FCC is considering additional changes that would further undercut the principle of universal broadband service. This uncertainty is causing lenders and investors to hold back, and is causing rural telecommunications companies to delay investments in new or upgraded services. This regulatory uncertainty acts as a stunning impediment to rural economic development.
Neither the actions ordered nor those still being considered by the FCC will serve the purpose of ensuring that all of America gets and stays connected. But, at the very least, I urge you to tell the FCC that no additional changes should be imposed until the effects of the new regulations ordered last fall can be studied. The FCC should not compound impediments to rural broadband deployment and increases in the rates paid by consumers by ordering a raft of new regulations when the impact of the first wave remains unknown. Already, consumers across rural America are being affected adversely by the changes, and the threat of even more cuts is undermining market confidence to invest in rural areas.
Especially disturbing are new FCC rules that reach back in time and effectively penalize rural businesses for decisions made before the new rules were known or became effective. In other cases, some carriers have announced that these changes, which will cripple their ability to recover the costs of past investment, will force them to stop service. This would have a devastating effect on my community. As you know, many rural communities across the country are still struggling to regain strength. If my local carrier diminishes its services or goes out of business, it will have a devastating impact on the businesses, schools, and health care providers that rely on the carrier. Economic recovery for which we all strive will stumble and weaken our prospects for the future.
Rural America needs you to demonstrate your commitment now to true universal service and ensure that high-quality broadband reaches every consumer in America. Please communicate to the FCC that it needs to fix the policies it has enacted and then examine their impacts on rural consumers before even considering additional changes. Let them know that current and future cuts will only lead to my community and many others across rural America being left behind.
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