Mullin, Kelly, Crapo Author Bill to Lower Broadband Costs, Boost Connectivity for Rural and Tribal Areas

Today, U.S. Senators Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), and Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced the Lowering Broadband Costs for Consumers Act of 2023 to direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to require proper contributions to the Universal Service Fund (USF) from edge providers and broadband providers. Requiring edge providers to cover associated costs for rural fiber networks will reduce the financial burden on consumers and rural providers while strengthening broadband connectivity throughout rural America.

In Oklahoma, less than half of all rural residents have access to broadband Internet, a necessity most people across the country have enjoyed at a low cost for years. More than 30 percent of individuals living on Tribal land across the U.S. do not have access to high-speed internet. 

“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.”

“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.”

“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.” 

“This bill is a commonsense answer to funding the ongoing maintenance costs of our nation’s rural fiber networks while reducing the burden on consumers by placing some responsibility of funding on those who financially benefit the most. We here in Oklahoma deeply appreciate the Senator’s leadership on this key rural issue,” said Larry Jones, Vice President/Chief Financial Officer for Chickasaw Holding Company.

“This legislation is extremely helpful in lowering costs of providing broadband in rural areas. It will allow us to pass those savings on to those we serve during a time of high costs. I appreciate Senator Mullin being the champion for rural broadband,” said Mark Gailey, General Manager of Totah Communications.

“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, Kelly’s, and Crapo’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.”

“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.
  • Limit the FCC’s authority over edge providers and broadband providers only to requiring contributions to the USF.