U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and Representative Tim Walz called on major cell phone companies to expand cell phone service in southwest Minnesota. In a letter to the CEO's of Verizon and AT&T Klobuchar, Franken and Walz urged the wireless carriers to take expedited action to bridge gaps in coverage in the area. Governor Dayton also signed the letter. Klobuchar, Franken, Walz and Dayton were in southwest Minnesota recently to assess winter storm damage and discussed the importance of cell coverage to public safety.
"As we saw in the recent winter storms, reliable cell phone service is essential to ensuring public safety and keeping communities strong," Klobuchar said. "Businesses, farmers and families in southwest Minnesota deserve to have 21st century communications infrastructure they need to compete in a global marketplace, stay connected and safe."
"Access to dependable cell service is something people in rural Minnesota should be able to count on - especially when a storm devastates a community, like we saw in Southwest Minnesota earlier this month," said Sen. Franken. "The wireless providers that serve Southwest Minnesota need to do a better job of working together to provide full coverage so their customers can rely on the cell phone service they're paying for."
"The ability to communicate with one another is critically important to ensure communities are connected and small businesses are able to compete in a global marketplace, especially when they are recovering from a disaster," said Walz. "Unfortunately, in many rural areas of southwest Minnesota, cell phone service is lacking or non-existent, which has only been made worse by the recent ice-storms. Our hardworking middle class families in rural America deserve peace of mind in knowing that they have a reliable cellphone service network when disaster strikes."
Klobuchar is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and has been a leader in pushing to expand and improve communications infrastructure in rural areas. Earlier this year she wrote a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging them to crack down on long-distance phone carriers that refuse to connect calls through rural carriers. She has also worked to improve access to high-speed Internet in rural areas, helping secure grants from the U.S. Agriculture and Commerce departments to expand broadband access in rural Minnesota. In addition, she has introduced the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act which would require states to simultaneously install broadband conduits as part of certain federal transportation projects, including projects such as building a new highway or adding a new lane or shoulder to an existing highway. In other words, "dig once." This proposal was advanced by the President's June 13 Executive Order accelerating broadband infrastructure deployment.
Sen. Franken is Chairman of the Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law and has repeatedly advocated to expand wireless and wireline broadband services out to rural areas. In April, he sent a bipartisan letter to the FCC urging the Commission to consider the unique needs of rural communities when reforming the Universal Service Fund, a program that was created to improve communications service for all Americans. In March, along with Republican Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Senators Klobuchar and Franken passed into the Senate's 2014 budget an amendment promoting investment in broadband infrastructure for rural areas.
The full text of the letter is below:
April 24, 2013
Mr. Lowell McAdam
Chairman and CEO
Verizon Communications, Inc.
140 West Street
New York, New York 10007
Mr. Randall Stephenson
Chairman and CEO
208 South Akard Street
Dallas, Texas 75202
Dear Mr. McAdam and Mr. Stephenson:
During a recent visit to Southwest Minnesota to assess the damage caused by a serious ice storm, we heard numerous complaints from residents, law enforcement officers, county officials and businesses about the ongoing lack of wireless service in the region. This problem was made worse by the recent ice storm, which resulted in power outages and the loss of landline telephone service. While AT&T and Verizon both claim to provide full coverage in this area, there are significant gaps in coverage. We request that you investigate the location of these gaps and take expedited action to bridge these coverage gaps and expand service to the area.
We believe that communications services, such as reliable mobile phone service, are essential to the safety and economic prosperity of rural and urban communities. Rural communities in Southwest Minnesota depend on agriculture, small businesses, and homegrown energy production to support their economy. These communities deserve to have 21st century communications services to innovate and grow their operations. Additionally, a lack of mobile coverage in an area that experiences severe weather and is less than 10 miles from a major interstate is a serious public safety issue.
We understand that licensing matters and interference issues may be among the causes of the gap in coverage, rather than a lack of physical infrastructure. If so, these issues should be addressed by your two companies expeditiously to allow for full coverage in Southwest Minnesota. Beyond closing these gaps, we also strongly encourage you to share with us and the affected communities Verizon's and AT&T's plans to improve and expand services and further develop communications infrastructure in the region.
As you continue to build-out wireless infrastructure across the United States either through partnerships or new investments, we ask that you address the needs of rural America. We thank you for your attention to this matter and look forward to your response.