Casey: Invest Full Broadband Funds in Pennsylvania

FCC considering option that could see $23M initially allotted to PA? go elsewhere / FCC should keep dollars in PA; Investment Would help rural PA communities access broadband

Casey: Invest Full Broadband Funds in Pennsylvania

Washington DC- U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) released a letter to the Chairman of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), Tom Wheeler, calling on the agency to adopt the recommendation of the PA Public Utility Commission (PA PUC) to keep Connect America Phase II funds, initially allotted to Pennsylvania but declined by a carrier in the state, within state lines to expand rural broadband for Pennsylvanians who need it most. The FCC is currently weighing whether to put the $23 million in declined funds up for competitive auction, which could lead to some of or all of the money going elsewhere.

Casey wrote, “Access to broadband and advanced telecommunication technology are essential to full participation in economic and social life for every American. Pennsylvania has demonstrated a long-term commitment to achieving the goal of universal service so a family farmer in Susquehanna County has the same opportunity to compete and succeed as a graphic designer in Philadelphia…..Pennsylvania’s rural residents need this funding. According to the FCC’s 2016 Broadband Progress Report, 20 percent of Pennsylvanians living in rural areas do not have access to high-speed internet, with that number rising as high as 69 percent in some counties. We need to do everything possible to expand access to this critical resource, and I support the PA PUC’s recommendation that states like Pennsylvania receive their full allocation of CAF II support, including declined funds, for use within the state. I urge the FCC to adopt a response to the New York petition and the PA PUC comments that achieves this critical goal.”

The full text of Casey’s letter can be seen below.

Dear Chairman Wheeler:

As the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) considers how to allocate declined Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF II) money, I write in support of the recommendation included in the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s (PA PUC) comments to the FCC, submitted on October 24, 2016, in response to a petition for expedited waiver of the FCC’s CAF II rules filed by the state of New York.  Given Pennsylvania’s demonstrated commitment to expanding broadband access and its longstanding position as a net contributor to the Universal Service Fund (USF), I urge the FCC to adopt the PA PUC’s recommendation. The recommendation aligns with the FCC’s universal service goals and would prevent the undue penalty of Pennsylvania businesses and consumers that would result from an interstate transfer of CAF II funds solely as a result of a single carrier’s decision to decline those funds.

Access to broadband and advanced telecommunication technology are essential to full participation in economic and social life for every American. Pennsylvania has demonstrated a long-term commitment to achieving the goal of universal service so a family farmer in Susquehanna County has the same opportunity to compete and succeed as a graphic designer in Philadelphia. As noted in the PA PUC’s comments to the FCC, under Pennsylvania’s multiyear incentive program to deploy broadband infrastructure, the PA PUC awarded $969.01 million in rate and revenue relief to affected incumbent local exchange carriers during the 2005-2015 time period alone. Over this time, Pennsylvania has also consistently ranked fifth in the country in terms of net USF contributions, with net contributions consistently exceeding $100 million and coming in at $132.27 million in 2014.

The PA PUC recommended that a state’s declined CAF II funds, such as the $23.27 million in annual support declined by Verizon North LLC in Pennsylvania, should be retained by that state, rather than be subject to a competitive bidding auction process that could see those funds transferred to another state. The FCC, which objectively allocated that sum to Pennsylvania through a cost model, should ensure that states like Pennsylvania, with a demonstrated commitment to expanding access to advanced telecommunication technology and a proven capacity to implement effective programs to expand access to broadband, are not unfairly penalized by the transfer of unclaimed CAF II funds to another state. The $23.27 million in declined CAF funds from Pennsylvania represents fully 45.66 percent of the total CAF II allotment to the state. Losing all or part of this funding would be unfair to Pennsylvania residents in rural and high-cost areas and contrary to the FCC’s goal of ensuring broadband access for all.

Pennsylvania’s rural residents need this funding. According to the FCC’s 2016 Broadband Progress Report, 20 percent of Pennsylvanians living in rural areas do not have access to high-speed internet, with that number rising as high as 69 percent in some counties. We need to do everything possible to expand access to this critical resource, and I support the PA PUC’s recommendation that states like Pennsylvania receive their full allocation of CAF II support, including declined funds, for use within the state. I urge the FCC to adopt a response to the New York petition and the PA PUC comments that achieves this critical goal.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

________________________

Robert P. Casey, Jr.

United States Senator

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