Wheeler pushes E-Rate and Connect America

In his blog on November 20, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler addressed expanding high-speed broadband into rural areas.

The problem itself is deep and undeniable. Wrote Wheeler:

“Americans living in urban areas are three times more likely to have access to Next Generation broadband than Americans in rural areas. An estimated 15 million Americans, primarily in rural communities, don’t even have access to entry-level broadband in their homes. Forty-one percent of American’s rural schools couldn’t get a high-speed connection if they tried.”

One remedy is enhancing the E-rate program. Wheeler has proposed to the FCC including “... targeted updates to E-rate rules to help defray the high costs rural libraries and schools face in achieving high-speed Internet connectivity, particularly the one-time infrastructure upgrade costs that many simply can’t afford today.”

To do so, he said, “I am proposing to my colleagues that we increase the cap on what all Americans contribute to the E-rate fund by 16 cents a month for a telephone line.”

“Let’s put that in perspective,” he said. “Over the course of the year that represents one cup of coffee or a medium soda at McDonald’s. Per year.”

But the problem extends beyond schools and libraries. Everyone – students, families, health care recipients – can benefit from high-speed Internet. As a result, “... the Commission has been working to re-orient its universal service fund program for rural communities to support broadband networks in unserved rural areas through the new Connect America Fund.”

Specifically under Phase II of the Connect America Fund, said Wheeler:

“My proposal would bring the minimum broadband speed... to 10 Mbps for downloads, from 4 Mbps – the first adjustment since 2011. We need to make sure rural consumers have the service they need to support modern applications and uses as we expand networks to the 15 million unserved rural Americans.”

Speed Matters supports the chairman’s proposals which can help close the geographic broadband gap.

Closing the Digital Divide in Rural America (FCC blog by Tom Wheeler, Nov. 202, 2014)