Alaska's Congressional delegation raised concerns this week with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about its lack of progress in fulfilling universal service goals established by Congress and crucial to expanding Alaska's telecommunications network. Universal service is the principle that all Americans should have access to communications services.
In a letter sent to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich and Congressman Don Young emphasized the need for the FCC to adopt policies and funding formulas to ensure the FCC achieves the universal service goals in the Telecommunications Act. In their letter, the delegation wrote:
" we remain concerned on a number of aspects in which the Commission's policies appear to digress from the universal service goals established by Congress in the Communications Act, some of which we note below. We believe the FCC must address these concerns to maintain but also expand the incomplete telecommunications network in Alaska As you know the lack of roads, extreme distances, topographical and climatic challenges in rural Alaska result in extraordinarily high construction and operational costs. To bring the most advanced services possible to our rural areas, the companies providing such services assumed extremely high burdens of debt. The uncertainty caused by the 2011 USF-ICC Transformation Order has caused many setbacks for universal service in Alaska. With your ongoing support we can ensure that Alaskans and their families and communities do not fall further behind in telecommunications services."
The delegation then listed several core issues for the FCC to address including requirements of Connect America Fund phase II, establishing an Alaska Wireless Fund in Mobility, reinstating the Safety Net Additive (SNA), and freezing the current rate floor.
"The FCC must ensure that its changes to universal service truly incentivize Alaskan carriers to develop broadband infrastructure in our state," said Senator Lisa Murkowski. "This requires that the Commission fully consider the unique situation faced by so many of Alaska's rural and remote communities that need and deserve better access to the infrastructure."
"As the FCC considers how to fulfill its obligation to bring universal service to Alaska, it must make sure to understand the challenges of reaching Alaska's rural communities," said Senator Mark Begich. "Strong telecommunications services open the door for learning and commerce that can lead to successful, self-reliant people and economies."
"Last month, Chairman Wheeler and I met to discuss my many concerns for infrastructure needs across the state and I was quick to remind him that, more often than not, Alaska does not fit into the same mold as the Lower 48," said Congressman Don Young. "In order to ensure our state's unique makeup is not overlooked, the FCC must provide added attention to Alaska when upholding the federal mandate of universal service and taking on Universal Service Fund reforms. Chairman Wheeler and his staff made a serious commitment to me, one I fully expect him to keep, not to ignore the unique challenges facing Alaska, including the high cost of new construction, restrictions to our short building season, and the construction of much needed infrastructure in remote communities. Without these considerations, the broadband revolution across the country will bypass Alaska and leave us with communities of second class broadband citizens."