Kelly, Mullin, Crapo Introduce Bill to Lower High-Speed Internet Costs in Rural Communities

Arizona Senator Mark Kelly, along with Senators Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and Mike Crapo (R-ID), introduced bipartisan legislation to expand access to affordable high-speed internet in rural and tribal communities. The Lowering Broadband Costs for Consumers Act would require big internet companies to help pay for the federal broadband expansion and affordability programs they benefit from.  

Currently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) funds broadband expansion projects through the Universal Service Fund (USF), which is funded through a service fee paid by landline telephone service providers. However, broadband service providers and other companies that benefit from broadband expansion efforts do not currently contribute to the USF. More than 177,000 Arizona homes and small businesses do not have access to high-speed internet. Nationwide, more than 30 percent of individuals living on Tribal land lack access. 

“The Universal Service Fund helps Arizonans in rural and low-income communities get access to affordable and reliable high-speed internet, but right now, large internet companies that profit from that expanded internet access don’t contribute their fair share,” said Sen. Kelly. “Our legislation will lower the cost of high-speed internet for consumers and rural providers and expand broadband connectivity throughout Arizona.” 

“Fair contributions to the USF from edge providers are long overdue,” said Sen. Mullin. “Video streaming services account for 75 percent of all traffic on rural broadband networks. However, unrecovered costs from streaming companies are often shifted and borne by small rural broadband providers. Available, affordable internet will close the digital divide and increase telehealth, educational, and employment opportunities for those who previously went without. Rural Oklahomans deserve the same connectivity as those living in urban areas.” 

“Idahoans rely heavily upon broadband technology for business, government and personal activities,” said Sen. Crapo. “This legislation expands on efforts to address the ‘digital divide’ in broadband deployment between rural and urban or suburban areas to ensure communities, regardless of size, can access the necessary connectivity for modern life.” 

“The Universal Service Fund plays a crucial role in connecting millions in America, particularly in our rural areas,” said Brandon Heiner, SVP of Government Affairs at USTelecom – The Broadband Association. “Senator Mullin’s and Kelly’s legislation will help ensure its long-term impact and sustainability by modernizing its contributions system to include the dominant Big Tech companies which benefit significantly from the broadband connectivity made possible by the Fund.  We commend Senators Mullin and Kelly for their leadership and look forward to working with Congress to bring stability to universal service.” 

“Universal Service Funding is vital for providing broadband and maintaining equitable rates in rural areas. This legislation will safeguard the sustainability of that funding and help ensure that rural consumers in Arizona and New Mexico get the connectivity they deserve. The member companies of ANMTA are thankful for the Senator’s role in this important issue,” said Michael Ferreira, President of the Arizona New Mexico Telecommunications Association

“Rural America depends on broadband infrastructure to connect to the rest of the world.  Ensuring that we have sustainable affordable rural broadband networks requires a change to USF Contributions. Affordable rural broadband service is not sustainable without annual universal service funding, and it is in jeopardy. The largest producers of data, such as Netflix, Amazon, Google, and Facebook, have not had to pay any costs of running their traffic on the networks. The cost has been unfairly borne by ever decreasing numbers of telephone consumers.  Now is the time to make this change, and I commend Senators Kelly and Mullin for taking the lead in meeting the demands of rural America,” said Chad Rupe, General Manager of Table Top Telephone Company (Ajo, Arizona)

“NTCA applauds the introduction of the Lowering Broadband Costs for Consumers Act, which would promote more predictable and stable funding to preserve and advance the statutory mission of universal service,” said Shirley Bloomfield CEO, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association. “As traditional telecommunications revenues decline, the assessment on the remaining consumers of such services increases, resulting in a disproportionate burden on those consumers even though they are not the most significant users of services or beneficiaries of underlying networks. Common-sense reforms like those directed by this legislation will shore up the foundation of universal service funding, spread contribution obligations more equitably among all of those that use and benefit from broadband networks, and ultimately help the low-income and rural consumers and schools, libraries, and rural health care facilities that depend on critical universal service programs.” 

“WTA – Advocates for Rural Broadband supports the Lowering Broadband Costs for Consumers Act, which makes necessary and long-overdue modernizations to the Universal Service Fund contributions system. It makes no sense to be assessing long-distance voice revenue to fund what is now a broadband-focused fund,” said Derrick Owens, Senior Vice President of Government & Industry Affairs. “While the FCC has the authority to expand the contributions base to include broadband providers, it does not have the authority to assess others who greatly profits from a ubiquitous network, such as large edge providers. We thank Senators Mullin and Kelly for introducing this bill and look forward to working with Congress and the FCC to modernize the USF contributions mechanism.” 

Specifically, the Lowering Broadband Costs for Consumers Act would: 

  • Direct the FCC to reform the USF by expanding the base so that edge providers and broadband providers contribute on an equitable and nondiscriminatory basis to preserve and advance universal service. 
  • Limit assessments of edge providers to only those with more than 3% of the estimated quantity of broadband data transmitted in the United States and more than $5 billion in annual revenue.  
  • Direct the FCC to adopt a new mechanism under the current USF high-cost program to provide specific, predictable, and sufficient support for expenses incurred by broadband providers that are not otherwise recovered. 

Click here for the full bill text.