Luján, Thune Announce Bipartisan Working Group on the Universal Service Fund and Broadband Access
Washington, D.C. – Ahead of the Subcommittee hearing titled “The State of Universal Service,” U.S. Senators Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and John Thune (R-S.D), Chairman and Ranking Member, respectively, of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, today announced a bipartisan Senate working group to evaluate and propose potential reforms to the Universal Service Fund (USF). The goal of this working group is to create a bipartisan forum to guide education, awareness, and policy-making on this topic. Joining Senators Luján and Thune are U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).
Specifically, the working group will consider the current state of the universal service requirements at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and consider possible reforms to ensure the Commission is able to achieve its mission to promote and preserve universal service to all people of the United States.
Today’s hearing will examine the need for connectivity in rural and insular areas, for health professionals in providing telemedicine and telehealth, for low-income households that otherwise could not afford internet access, and for access to communications services in our nation’s schools and libraries. The hearing will also explore potential reforms to ensure its effectiveness in the years to come.
“From New Mexico’s rural schools and hospitals, to low income individuals in underserved communities, the Universal Service Fund has been instrumental in expanding broadband access across the country,” said Luján, Chair of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband. “I’m proud to lead this bipartisan working group that will help strengthen these critical programs and ensure they are well-equipped to close the digital divide. Every community deserves a pathway to an affordable, resilient, and secure internet connection, and strengthening the Universal Service Fund is a key part of delivering our promise to connect every corner of America.”
“Universal service is a bipartisan principle that has been the bedrock of our nation’s communications policies for nearly 90 years, and programs that efficiently and effectively strengthen its underlying goal have contributed to advancements in health care, education, and economic development,” said Thune, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband. “I remain committed to ensuring Americans in rural parts of the country have access to communication services, and I am pleased to join Senator Luján in leading this working group.”
“We took critical steps to expand broadband access when provisions based on my bill to bring high-speed internet to every family in America were included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. But there’s still more we can do to build on this progress,” said Senator Klobuchar. “I’m proud to join this bipartisan working group to help strengthen programs that expand access to broadband while lowering fees for consumers. Together, we’re working to close the digital divide once and for all.”
“All options need to be on the table to modernize and update the Universal Service Fund to encourage and maintain universal service with our sights set on a more responsible, predictable, and prudent USF that truly serves Americans in need of support. It is my hope that this bipartisan working group will result in productive discussions and solutions that will bring us closer to bridging the digital divide,” said Senator Capito.
“The Universal Service Fund helps support high-speed internet in rural and underserved areas across our country, including in Michigan,” said Senator Peters. “This bipartisan working group will help us ensure this program is strong for years to come and find solutions to expand access to reliable internet broadband in our state and across the country.”
Background: Earlier this year, Senator Luján reintroduced the Funding Affordable Internet with Reliable (FAIR) Contributions Act. The legislation would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to conduct a study into the feasibility of collecting Universal Service Fund (USF) contributions from internet edge providers.