Rural broadband funds under scrutiny

The Federal Communications Commission is staking out a rough position on broadband. The commission is considering capping broadband funds while simultaneously promoting broadband expansion nationwide. The vote would cap funds for rural broadband available through the Universal Service Fund.

The Universal Service Fund is a surcharge every American pays on their telephone bills in order to keep the telephone infrastructure in working order and lately, to expand rural broadband. The vote would cap these funds and their use, and may include provisions to make the funding cap retroactive. That possibility has telecom councils worried in rural states especially if previously promised funding is abruptly capped.

The potential for a retroactive provision has already slowed some broadband expansion projects as states wait to find out if funding is still secure. Even with the FCC support for rural broadband urban areas still get significantly more funds. Funding for rural broadband is often a difficult sell for private providers who feel there isn’t sufficient subscriber demand.

Rural broadband initiatives and supporters have launched a new website The Great Disconnect ( which highlights the disparities between urban and rural broadband as well as what’s at stake by capping funding to these types of projects. The Obama Administration has been supporting rural broadband expansion as a means of increasing the overall economic competitiveness of the country but funding for such projects has been controversial given the ongoing budget fight at the federal level.

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