Wyden, Merkley Demand Answers From the FCC on Move Limiting Access to Resources to Expand Rural Broadband

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today denounced the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decision to move forward with a recently adopted rule that would limit the federal resources available to expand broadband in rural areas.

The rule would make areas that have received state-run broadband program funding or funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) ReConnect program ineligible for new federal investment for broadband deployment through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF).

“Limiting access to these vital federal funds could cause unintended harm to the constituents of our states who were counting on this funding opportunity as a chance to improve service for residents and overall quality of life in their communities. Our communities should not be put in the position to have to choose between federal or state funding opportunities,” the senators wrote the FCC.  

The FCC’s RDOF will allocate $20.4 billion to connect millions of rural homes and small businesses to high-speed, broadband internet. However, the senators explained, under the newly adopted order from the FCC, many unserved rural communities could be excluded from this vital pool of federal funding, stripping these communities in Oregon and nationwide of resources that could improve educational, economic and health outcomes. The FCC has not yet identified the areas that might be affected, increasing uncertainty for providers eager to participate in RDOF.

“We are also troubled by the discouraging message your agency is sending to states that are either in the process of, or are considering creating their own broadband programs. Given the FCC’s critical role in connecting rural communities to high-speed internet through broadband expansion and deployment, your agency should be incentivizing states to take action and create their own programs, not deterring them by restricting the eligibility of their communities for federal programs such as the RDOF,” the senators continued.

Wyden and Merkley were joined by Senators Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Tom Udall, D-N.M., Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Edward Markey, D-Mass., Angus King, I-Maine, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Patty Murray, D-Wash., Bob Casey, D-Pa., Mark Warner, D-Va., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

Last month, Wyden and Merkley sent a set of letters to the Trump administration urging them to fix arbitrary application requirements and lift other barriers preventing rural communities from accessing resources for rural broadband deployment through the USDA’s ReConnect program.

A copy of the senators’ letter to the FCC can be found here.

A web version of this release is here.