Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai today shared an order to promote more high-speed broadband deployment in rural areas.

If adopted by his fellow commissioners, the order would provide over $500 million in additional funding for cooperatives and small rural carriers. In addition, the order would put in place new rules to prevent abuse of the high-cost universal service program and include several reforms to improve its effectiveness and efficiency in promoting rural broadband deployment, including the use of a Tribal Broadband Factor to enable better access on Tribal lands. Pai offered the following 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.

The order comes one week after President Trump touted a 23-page report on rural prosperity, which called for expanding broadband by removing regulatory barriers and providing new incentives for private investment. And, during a presentation at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting, he also signed an executive order designed to improve broadband access in rural areas where over one-third of Americans lack high-speed access.

However, in a briefing last week, Grace Kho, the White House’s special assistant for technology, telecommunications and cybersecurity, cautioned that expanding rural broadband will take time.

“This is not going to be a sprint. This will be a long time of -- a long process of figuring out how to exactly move the federal government in the right place in order to be able to get broadband to rural Americans.”

Rural providers welcomed the FCC chairman’s order, which will ultimately be up for a vote by the full commission.

“The high-cost universal service fund (USF) is foundational to any effort to promote and sustain rural broadband – it enables the business case for network investment and the delivery of quality services at affordable rates for millions of rural Americans. In recent years, insufficient support has undermined the effectiveness of the USF programs, leading to network investments being delayed or denied and higher rates and lower broadband speeds for rural consumers,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association.

“Today’s proposal from Chairman Pai with respect to support levels represents an important, long-needed step to put the USF programs back on track toward achievement of the statutory goals of universal service.”