WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Representatives Peter Welch (D-VT-AL) and Roger Marshall (R-KS-01) led a bipartisan, bicameral letter urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to include dedicated funding to help small broadband providers sustain internet services and upgrades for students and low-income families in any future legislation in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Minnesota Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) also joined the letter.

Last week, Klobuchar, Smith, and Cramer introduced the Keeping Critical Connections Act to help small broadband companies provide critical internet services and upgrades for students and their families during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill would appropriate $2 billion for a Keeping Critical Connections fund at the Federal Communications Commission under which small broadband providers with fewer than 250,000 customers could be compensated for broadband services—if they provided free or discounted broadband services or upgrades—during the pandemic for their customers that were low-income families who were unable to pay their bills or provided distance learning capability for students. Welch and Marshall introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

 “In recent weeks, unemployment claims have surged, and schools across the country have closed in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus, leaving many Americans—including low-income families and students—without critical internet connectivity. Many small broadband providers have committed to continue providing voice and broadband services and upgrades despite ongoing economic hardships facing many Americans,” the members of Congress wrote.

“Small providers—which contribute to more than 77,000 jobs and support more than $10 billion in economic activity in the United States— may be unable to sustain services if customers are unable to pay for a prolonged period of time, jeopardizing broadband connectivity for customers all across this country. Without action from Congress, small providers may be unable to continue to help ensure that the communities they serve can access distance learning and telehealth services.”

In addition to Klobuchar, Smith and Cramer, the letter was signed by Senators Todd Young (R-IN), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), John Hoeven (R-ND), Jon Tester (D-MT), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), and Gary Peters (D-MI). 

The letter was also signed by Representatives Peter Welch (D-VT), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH), Greg Murphy (R-NC), Anthony Brindisi (D-NY), Troy Balderson (R-OH), Rob Wittman (R-VA), Steve Watkins (R-KS), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Don Young (R-AK), and David McKinley (R-WV).

The full text of the letter can be found HERE and below:

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, Minority Leader Schumer, and Minority Leader McCarthy:

We write to urge you to include dedicated funding in any future legislation to help ensure small broadband providers can keep students and low-income families connected during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Many students and low-income families are facing financial hardships due to the pandemic need assistance from small broadband providers—many of which have already committed to sustain critical internet services and provide upgrades to ensure that the most vulnerable among us stay connected.

In recent weeks, unemployment claims have surged, and schools across the country have closed in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus, leaving many Americans—including low-income families and students—without critical internet connectivity. Many small broadband providers have committed to continue providing voice and broadband services and upgrades despite ongoing economic hardships facing many Americans. Small providers—which contribute to more than 77,000 jobs and support more than $10 billion in economic activity in the United States— may be unable to sustain services if customers are unable to pay for a prolonged period of time, jeopardizing broadband connectivity for customers all across this country. Without action from Congress, small providers may be unable to continue to help ensure that the communities they serve can access distance learning and telehealth services.

It is for this reason that we introduced the bipartisan Keeping Critical Connections Act, which now has 11 cosponsors in the House and 17 in the Senate. While the third coronavirus relief package included funding for rural broadband deployment, it did not include funding to help small broadband providers sustain services and upgrades for students and low-income families. We now urge you to include funding in the next expected relief package for a temporary emergency relief fund at the Federal Communications Commission to help small broadband providers continue these critical services for students and low-income families throughout the pandemic.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We stand ready to work with you to help small broadband companies keep communities connected at this critical time.

Sincerely,

Issues