Sen. Mullin files act to lower cost of rural broadband service


Oklahoma U.S. Senator Markwayne Mullin wants to do something about lowering the cost of the availability of broadband service and he has  the support of at least one Democrat.

Mullin was joined by Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly and Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo in introducing the Lowering Broadband Costs for Consumers Act of 2023 to direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to require proper contributions to the Universal Service Fund (USF) from edge providers and broadband providers. Requiring edge providers to cover associated costs for rural fiber networks will reduce the financial burden on consumers and rural providers while strengthening broadband connectivity throughout rural America.

“Fair contributions to the USF from edge providers are long overdue,” said Sen. Mullin. “Video streaming services account for 75 percent of all traffic on rural broadband networks. However, unrecovered costs from streaming companies are often shifted and borne by small rural broadband providers.”

Sen. Mullin contends that affordable internet will close the digital divide and increase telehealth, educational, and employment opportunities for those who previously went without.

“Rural Oklahomans deserve the same connectivity as those living in urban areas,” he added.

In Oklahoma, less than half of all residents have access to broadband Internet, a necessity most people across the country have enjoyed at a low cost for years. More than 30 percent of individuals living on Tribal land across the U.S. do not have access to high-speed internet. 

The senator has the support of Larry Jones, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Chickasaw Holding Company.

“This bill is a commonsense answer to funding the ongoing maintenance costs of our nation’s rural fiber networks while reducing the burden on consumers by placing some responsibility of funding on those who financially benefit the most. We here in Oklahoma deeply appreciate the Senator’s leadership on this key rural issue.”

Another supporter of the act is Mark Gailey, General Manager of Totah Communications in Ochelata.

“This legislation is extremely helpful in lowering costs of providing broadband in rural areas. It will allow us to pass those savings on to those we serve during a time of high costs. I appreciate Senator Mullin being the champion for rural broadband.”

National groups also have come out in support of the Act including NTCA-The Rural broadband Association where Shirley Bloomfield is CEO.

“NTCA applauds the introduction of the Lowering Broadband Costs for Consumers Act, which would promote more predictable and stable funding to preserve and advance the statutory mission of universal service,” she said.

“Common-sense reforms like those directed by this legislation will shore up the foundation of universal service funding, spread contribution obligations more equitably among all of those that use and benefit from broadband networks, and ultimately help the low-income and rural consumers and schools, libraries, and rural health care facilities that depend on critical universal service programs.”

Another national group, USTelecom–The Broadband Association also is behind Mullin’s Act.

 “Senator Mullin’s, Kelly’s, and Crapo’s legislation will help ensure its long-term impact and sustainability by modernizing its contributions system to include the dominant Big Tech companies which benefit significantly from the broadband connectivity made possible by the Fund,” said Brandon Heiner, SVP of Government Affairs. 

Specifically, the Lowering Broadband Costs for Consumers Act would:

  • Direct the FCC to reform the USF by expanding the base so that edge providers and broadband providers contribute on an equitable and nondiscriminatory basis to preserve and advance universal service.
  • Limit assessments of edge providers to only those with more than 3% of the estimated quantity of broadband data transmitted in the United States and more than $5 billion in annual revenue. 
  • Direct the FCC to adopt a new mechanism under the current USF high-cost program to provide specific, predictable, and sufficient support for expenses incurred by broadband providers that are not otherwise recovered.
  • Limit the FCC’s authority over edge providers and broadband providers only to requiring contributions to the USF.

Source: press release