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National Grange News
Grange States FCC's
  FEBRUARY 2008 -- The National Grange, League of Rural Voters, and National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) joined together to write an op-ed on rural communities across the country that will be left behind if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has its way. The FCC recently indicated that it plans to cap the rural portion of the Federal Universal Service Fund (USF) as a first step toward long-term “reform.” A cap not only moves the country in the opposite direction of reform, it also freezes investments wireless carriers make in new rural infrastructure development.

The USF was created to ensure that rural communities have access to the same telecommunication services found in urban areas. Over the past several years, wireless carriers have used funds from the USF to improve and expand wireless service in rural areas of the country that wouldn’t otherwise support investment. Despite this progress, a digital divide clearly exists in this country, and there are many areas where a strong cell phone signal is a rarity. Unfortunately, instead of working to improve wireless access in rural communities, the FCC wants to shut the door on rural America – and its sixty million residents.

The current lack of high-quality wireless coverage in rural areas is a critical public safety issue. First responders, law enforcement officials, and rural citizens all depend on high quality coverage to reliably deal with issues ranging from natural disasters, to automotive emergencies to domestic violence.

A cap on the Universal Service Fund puts the safety of rural residents at stake. In emergency situations, reliable wireless service can literally mean the difference between life and death. This proposed cap also poses a significant economic threat. Access to wireless telecommunications is essential for communities to thrive and compete in the marketplace. It is difficult for businesses to be competitive without something as basic as reliable cell service.

The op-ed article concluded by urging members of Congress to oppose the discriminatory cap that hurts rural communities across the country stating a cap on the Universal Service Fund will adversely impact rural public safety, stifle rural economic development and exacerbate the urban/rural technology divide.

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