WASHINGTON, August 4, 2010 – In a letter released Monday, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) attributed the aftermath of the Big Branch Explosion in West Virginia to “a troubling lack of communications facilities in our rural communities.” The cause of this void, Rockefeller argued, was the Federal Communications Commission’s model for reaching universal service.
“The existing universal service system has shortchanged too many residents of communities in West Virginia and in rural areas across the country. Statistics make this painfully clear,” Rockefeller wrote. “The stark fact is that the present universal service system has failed to provide the kind of ubiquitous service that the law requires.”
Rockefeller proceeded to attack the FCC’s subsidy granting process for favoring large, entrenched corporate interests over rural service providers who could actually make universal access a reality. “I believe that these shortcomings have been magnified by a FCC system in which support is dependent on the size and regulatory classification of the carrier rather than the underlying characteristics of the area to which support is directed,” Rockefeller wrote. “A more sensible and efficient system – that delivered true universal service – would focus less on the size of the carrier providing the service and more on providing support to those areas of the country that lack service today.”
The Senator then charged the FCC with fixing the problem in unequivocal terms, writing “Inequities in basic infrastructure, like the ones exposed by the mining disaster in West Virginia, are profoundly unacceptable. In order to honor the spirit of universal service and the legal requirements of Section 254 [of the Communications Act], the FCC must act to remedy this situation. Everyone in this country, no matter who they are or where they live, deserves access to modern communications services, including broadband and wireless services.”
Rockefeller’s letter comes following a Commerce Committee hearing in June, which examined how the current system is working, and what can be done to make sure rural areas throughout the country have broadband and wireless services on par with those available in urban areas.
A copy of the letter can be found at: http://commerce.senate.gov/public/?a=Files.Serve&File_id=fb94c9fb-94e8-4dbc-bbb4-2e6b13677098