Peterson leads bi-partisan delegation in introducing Universal Broadband Act

May 5, 2020
Press Release

Washington, DC – Representatives Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Don Young (R-AK), with the bipartisan support of T.J. Cox (D-CA), Hal Rogers (R-KY), Angie Craig (D-MN), Frank Lucas (R-OK), Luis Correa (D-CA), Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ), Ed Case (D-HI), and Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX) have introduced The Universal Broadband Act today to ensure rural Americans have the opportunity to access reliable broadband services. The Universal Broadband Act will achieve this goal by expanding the Universal Service Fund (USF) contribution base to include broadband services, rather than the current outdated model that draws support solely from telephone services. The costs of building out service to areas without adequate broadband continues to rise, while the current base that contributes to the USF is declining. This has resulted in an increasingly growing contribution factor, overburdening those who are required to contribute.


“Reliable broadband is a utility, every bit as necessary as electricity,” said Rep. Peterson. “From distance learning to telehealth and the transitions of working from home during a public health crisis, broadband is more important than ever. It’s unacceptable that rural communities have limited, unreliable or worse yet no broadband access. In response to these inequities I have introduced the Universal Broadband Act that secures adequate funding to support the construction of broadband infrastructure in rural and underserved areas without having to increase the national debt.”


“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of broadband access for our communities, schools, and health care providers," said Rep. Young. "We must work so that those in our rural areas can have access to the connectivity they need to keep their families safe and give them a semblance of normalcy. I am proud to partner with my good friend Congressman Collin Peterson on this critical effort to help close the digital divide, and will continue working to ensure that Alaska’s families can stay connected.”


“Now more than ever, it is crucial that we establish reliable, affordable broadband access to our rural communities,” said Rep. Cox. “Not only is this important for remote education, but also for our farmers and small business owners who increasingly rely on technology for their work. This bill brings us one step closer – eliminating roadblocks and establishing accountability for more efficient rural broadband development.”


“Broadband connectivity is a critical component to job creation, educational opportunities, telehealth and much more. Without access to broadband, rural America is missing out on competitive opportunities,” said Rep. Hal Rogers. “This legislation will help shore up the fund that allows us to support broadband expansion in communities where it’s needed the most for economic development.”


“In far too many communities across Minnesota’s Second Congressional District, families have no access or only access to highly expensive broadband, which is the infrastructure of the 21st century,” said Rep. Angie Craig. “I’m proud to be working with Chairman Peterson to fix that with the Universal Broadband Act, which not only recognizes that our small businesses, family farmers and students depend on reliable broadband every day, but it will start to deliver the infrastructure to power their daily lives.”


“Access to affordable high-speed internet is essential to prosper in the 21st century economy. Thanks to the leadership of my friend and colleague Rep. Collin Peterson, Congress is expanding the investment to the Universal Service Fund to ensure all Americans have reliable access to broadband,” said Rep. Frank Lucas. The Universal Service Fund can trace its origins back to Depression-era efforts to provide telecommunication services to low-income households and high-cost areas across the nation. As the USF’s mission has evolved over time to include the expansion of broadband internet service to rural America, the contribution structure that supports the Fund has become more and more outdated.  While the cost of the programs supported by the Universal Service Fund continue to rise, the already-overburdened contribution base continues to diminish. Oklahoma’s schools, hospitals, small businesses, and consumers have benefited from USF funds and it’s past time we address the Fund’s sustainability issues. Our work in this area is far from finished, but the Universal Broadband Act will be an important step in bridging the digital divide between rural and urban areas.”


“We must provide the Federal Communications Commission adequate funding to close the digital divide for low-income and rural Americans,” said Rep. Vicente Gonzalez.“Many businesses, schools, and communities in South Texas depend on access to high-speed broadband. In the digital age, lack of a reliable internet connection can mean missed opportunities and setbacks. By reforming the Universal Service Fund, the Universal Broadband Act provides a thoughtful solution and a stable revenue stream to fund long-term investment in marginalized communities and close the digital divide.”


The Universal Broadband Act would provide long-awaited reinvestment into the USF that prioritizes building out broadband without over-burdening the FCC from extensive new regulations. The bill would:


  • Codify that broadband is within the definition of Universal Service;
  • Require the FCC to set the contribution rate as needed to meet Universal Service goals and serve all Americans;
  • Require consultation between USDA’s Rural Utility Service (RUS), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and the FCC;
  • Create reporting requirements to ensure the FCC is meeting their build out goals; and
  • Prioritize unserved areas, and further ensure tribal areas are served.


Stakeholder support for the Universal Broadband Act:


NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, CEO, Shirley Bloomfield NTCA applauds the vision of Reps. Peterson and Young, and these other leaders in Congress, in seeking to ensure that the universal service programs that are so critical to bridge digital divides sit atop a solid and more reliable foundation. Now more than ever, as we telecommute, educate our children remotely and try to stay connected with loved ones online, it has become clear that broadband communications play an essential role in our nation’s economy, and the well-being of millions of Americans. Unfortunately, even as the importance of universal broadband connectivity increases, the system that governs contributions to the Universal Service Fund (USF)—the program that enables such connectivity—has continued to erode and become less stable. By directing the expansion of the USF contribution base to include broadband access services—those very services that have become a primary focus of our country’s shared universal service mission—this bipartisan bill, which NTCA endorses wholeheartedly, charts a course for steadier long-term support of the USF program on a more equitable basis, and it will therefore help to promote achievement of all aspects of that mission.”


National Farmers Union, President, Rob Larew “Family farmers depend on the internet to access critical information about markets and environmental conditions, implement precision agriculture technology, and reach customers. But currently, more than a third of rural Americans lack access to affordable, high-speed broadband. By expanding the scope of and stabilizing the revenue stream for the Universal Service Fund, the Universal Broadband Act makes great strides toward ensuring that every rural household has access to this essential resource. NFU thanks Chairman Peterson for his ongoing leadership on this important issue that affects many of our members.”


American Farm Bureau Federation, President, Zippy Duvall “There are more than 19 million rural Americans that lack broadband access. This bill will modernize the Universal Service Fund to help our rural communities bridge the digital divide.”


Farm Credit Council, President and CEO,Todd Van Hoose “Access to broadband is critical, and rural communities trail their urban counterparts. We thank Reps. Peterson and Young for introducing the Universal Broadband Act. This legislation will help ensure the longevity of the Universal Service Fund, which is vital to the expansion of broadband networks in underserved and rural areas.”


CoBank, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs,Brian Cavey “CoBank welcomes this much needed effort to modernize the Universal Service Fund in support of providing broadband to rural communities.”  


WTA - Advocates for Rural Broadband, Senior Vice President of Government & Industry Affairs, Derrick Owens “We strongly support the Universal Broadband Act and the bold steps that Representatives Peterson and Young have taken to modernize the Universal Service Fund.  All four USF programs are focused on broadband; it makes no sense to solely assess long distance telephone revenues for contributions. If Congress were designing the USF program today, it would never structure it the way it is currently structured. This bill would fund USF consistent with the services being offered in the 21st Century.”


National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), CEO, Dr. Barb Glenn “Narrowing the rural opportunity gap starts with connecting everyone. NASDA supports the Universal Broadband Act as it institutes a sustainable funding structure to match today’s needs and tomorrow’s demands. NASDA thanks Congressman Peterson and Congressman Young for their bipartisan leadership and all hands-on deck approach to expanding rural broadband access.”


Power & Communication Contractors Association, Chairman, John Fluharty “Expanding the contribution base of the USF to include broadband providers is the long-term fix for broadband deployment. PCCA represents the vast majority of construction entities who install, repair and maintain America’s broadband infrastructure, and we applaud Chairman Peterson for introducing this important legislation.”


Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), Senior Vice President of Government and Industry Relations, Kip Eideberg "Farm equipment manufacturers applaud the introduction of this important piece of legislation because it will significantly help the agricultural-related industries in our rural communities. The Universal Broadband Act will stabilize a critical source of funding to enhance and expand rural broadband coverage to support the evolving connectivity needs of production agriculture and farm equipment."


Association of Minnesota Counties President and Lake County Commissioner, Rich Sve “The Association of Minnesota Counties applauds Congressman Peterson’s work on the Universal Broadband Act in order to better address the need for national rural broadband investment. As president of an association representing all of Minnesota’s 87 counties, we understand the disparities in broadband access in our state. The Universal Broadband Act will help to address those disproportionalities. Now more than ever, access to broadband is vital to economic success, healthcare, and education and we appreciate Congressman Peterson’s efforts to make this a priority.”


Minnesota Telcom Alliance, President and CEO, Brent J. Christensen “The Minnesota Telecom Alliance wants to once again thank Congressman Peterson for his leadership on rural Broadband.  This bill is essential if we are going to sincerely make rural broadband deployment a priority.  The current Universal Service contribution methodology is not sustainable and the reforms that Congressman Peterson is proposing is the best hope at fixing this problem.”


Consolidated Telecommunications Company CEO and General Manager Kristi Westbrock  “Representative Peterson has been committed to ensuring reliable and affordable Broadband is delivered to all rural Americans.  Introduction of the Universal Broadband Act will provide the needed updates to the Universal Services Fund by including broadband, allowing for a dependable and consistent financial funding.  CTC fully supports this bill and appreciates the Representative’s bi-partisan support to correct the digital divide through consistent funding mechanisms and agency collaborations.”


Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association President & CEO, Steve Kalina“Without broadband access, I would not be able to work from home.  I’ve tried to use my cellphone as a hotspot, but that is unreliable and expensive. It is important to have stable broadband that is affordable in order to participate in video conference calls and to communicate with my colleagues quickly.  More importantly, I need the bandwidth to support two professionals working from home, as my wife is self-employed as a legal assistant.  We support the Universal Broadband Act and the work Rep. Peterson is doing to make sure rural residents have the broadband infrastructure to support them.”