Working together to keep rural America connected

Telecommunications companies and the Federal Communications Commission are working to keep rural communities connected through the pandemic and build stronger infrastructure in the future.

On March 13th, the FCC called on providers to take the “Keep Americans Connected Pledge.” For 60 days, no customer or consumer would be cutoff from service or charged late fees during the pandemic.

Chairman Ajit Pai says that companies responded quickly: “Within days, hundreds of providers... had taken the pledge. That number would eventually grow to over 700. When the first 60 days were up, we asked people to double down and extend their commitments to June 30th. Almost 800 companies signed up for round two for the ‘Keep Americans Connected Pledge.’”

Moving forward, the Rural Broadband Association says that lawmakers need to find a solution to keep Americans connected, while supporting providers.

NTCA’s Michael Romano notes, “The pledge is expired now, there are a lot of uncollected bills out there, customers on payment plans, how do we make sure those customers stay connected-- you can only do free for so long as a business and stay in business... mounting uncollectibles can be a real problem.”

Chairman Pai also discussed initiatives in place before the pandemic, including the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which will provide $20.4 billion dollars over the next ten year for broadband development.

Under the Broadband Data Act, the FCC is working to improve broadband mapping. One challenge is sorting through the collected data.

The FCC is offering another $4.9 billion dollars in support for carriers using the newly overhauled Universal Service Program to help keep rural costs in line with urban rates.