WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill is urging the Federal Communications Commission ensure broadband providers can deliver on rural service for Missourians, asking the agency to implement strong upfront oversight safeguards against waste and abuse as it prepares to award $1.98 billion in rural broadband funding next year.
“… More than 112,000 locations in rural Missouri are preliminarily eligible for universal service funding through the [Connect America Fund Phase II] auction,” wrote McCaskill in a letter to the leadership of the FCC. “These unserved communities have been waiting years for broadband and the auction presents a unique opportunity to finally allow universal service funding to flow to these communities in Missouri.”
The letter continues: “I am concerned, however, that the Commission may fail to adopt sufficient safeguards in the auction. Absent adequate safeguards, the auction could not only fail to connect rural Missouri with broadband, but also risks introducing waste and fraud into the program… To protect the integrity of the program, I urge the commission to screen applicants to ensure they are both qualified to participate and have the ability to serve all unserved households in geographic areas where they are bidding with the applicable speed and capacity… Adopting these common sense safeguards should help ensure a fair auction and help to finally deliver on our nation’s universal service promise to rural Missourians.”
Next year, the FCC is expected to move forward with a first-of-its kind reverse auction to award $198 million a year over 10 years, or $1.98 billion, in funding for broadband in unserved areas. The FCC is considering public comments as it finalizes the rules and procedures for the auction.
McCaskill, a longtime advocate for improving access to affordable, reliable forms of communication in small towns and rural communities, recently backed bipartisan legislation to ensure Missourians in rural communities receive reliable and affordable phone call quality. Additionally, McCaskill introduced the Community Broadband Act to improve internet access in rural communities by protecting the rights of localities—which often face significant cost and other barriers—to build municipal broadband networks, and, along with fellow Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, has previously urged the FCC to move forward on its rural broadband auction without delay.
This fall, following a call from McCaskill for Verizon to reverse course on its plan to drop nearly 8,500 rural customers nationally—including approximately 400 Missourians—from access to wireless broadband service within 30 days, Verizon announced it will allow affected customers who want to stay with Verizon to do so after changing service plans, and allow more time for those who wish to leave the carrier altogether to do so.
And this summer McCaskill held a roundtable with federal and local officials to discuss the importance of rural broadband. Currently, more than 60 percent of Missourians in rural areas do not have broadband access. Following the roundtable, she wrote to the FCC to express concerns about the auction rules that she heard directly from the Missouri electric cooperatives.