FCC chairman proposes $500M in funding for rural broadband

Rural digital divide: The additional funding would go to cooperatives and small rural carriers for broadband deployment.

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FCC chairman Ajit Pai. (Image: file photo)

FCC chairman Ajit Pai on Tuesday proposed an order with fellow commissioners to provide $500 million in additional funding for rural broadband deployment.

In a statement, Pai said the additional funding would go to cooperatives and small rural carriers to subsidize deployment. The order also adds "strong new" rules to prevent abuse of the high-cost Connect America Fund, reforms to improve effectiveness and efficiency, and changes to provide better access on Tribal lands.

Pai said in a statement:

Closing the digital divide is the FCC's top priority. A key way to reach this goal in rural America is updating the FCC's high-cost universal service program to encourage cooperatives and other small, rural carriers to build more online infrastructure. We need more deployment in sparsely populated rural areas if we're going to extend digital opportunity to all Americans. But I've heard from community leaders, Congress, and carriers that insufficient, unpredictable funding has kept them from reaching this goal. With the $500 million in new funding provided by this order, we'll boost broadband deployment in rural America and put our high-cost system on a more efficient path, helping to ensure that every American can benefit from the digital revolution.

The proposed order hasn't been made public, so a lot of details about the additional funding are still unknown. It comes off the heels of President Donald Trump signing an executive order that speeds up federal permitting for broadband expansion in rural areas and makes it easier for wireless operators to put cell towers on federal lands.

Read also: US government's new broadband rules don't add up

"Those towers are going to go up and you are going to have great, great broadband," President Trump said in his speech on Jan. 8.

The FCC estimates 39 percent of people living in rural regions don't have access to broadband, compared to four percent of people in cities. The Connect America Fund has been a longtime US government initiative to bring broadband to the entire US. It has linked with carriers like AT&T to subsidize deployment in rural cities.

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