FCC's Pai Proposes Freeing Up $500M for Rural Broadband

FCC chair Ajit Pai said Tuesday (Jan. 16) that he has circulated an order that would provide $500 million dollars in added funding for broadband deployment to rural and smaller carriers.

That comes as both the White House and Congressional Republicans have outlined plans, and actions, to close the rural digital divide, something Pai has made a priority.

Related: Rep. Blackburn Intros First Batch of Rural Broadband Bills

Along with that money would come new rules to prevent abuse of the high-cost Universal Service Fund broadband subsidies from which the money will be coming. The fund goes to boost buildouts in primarily rural areas where the cost is too high to make a reasonable business case for buildout out absent the government's help.

"Closing the digital divide is the FCC’s top priority," Pai said of the proposal. "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," Pai added. "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.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.