Editor,

It’s a matter of simple equality: Rural Americans deserve high-quality wireless service comparable to that available in urban America. We are becoming a wireless nation – people everywhere depend on their cell phones to meet critical safety and business needs. For too long, Rural America has been left behind.

Connecting Rural America is a grassroots campaign of advocacy groups, community leaders and elected officials working to level the regulatory playing field so that rural consumers can access high-quality wireless telecommunications services.

The situation:

• In 1996, Congress created the Universal Service Fund (USF) to help build critical telecommunications infrastructure in America’s rural areas.

• Wireless customers contribute the largest share of USF, over $2.5 billion to the $7 billion fund annually. Since 1996, more than $22 billion of those contributions have gone to rural land line phone companies, while just under $2 billion has gone to rural wireless carriers.

• Now the FCC is set to cap the fund, freezing support to providers seeking to build new rural wireless networks and closing the door on rural America.

• If the FCC freezes funding to wireless providers, the technological gap faced by rural America will only widen. A freeze will slow economic development in rural communities by hampering their ability to attract new businesses and tourists. It also will prohibit people already working and living in rural areas from enjoying the same advanced technology and convenience as those in urban areas.

• More important, the lack of quality wireless coverage in rural areas is a critical public safety issue. Without high-quality coverage, first responders, law enforcement, and rural citizens cannot reliably deal with critical safety issues like natural disasters, automotive crises and domestic violence. Moreover, E-911 technology is useless in areas without coverage.

Connecting Rural America calls on members of Congress to protect and expand – not cap – Universal Service Funding for Wireless.

Capping the fund to wireless carriers, who attempting to improve service in rural America, is unacceptable. Less USF support for rural wireless infrastructure development will leave much of rural America with poor coverage and dangerous dead zones. In today’s world, cell phone coverage is critical to public safety, health and economic development.

We can’t afford to leave rural America behind. The Universal Service Fund needs to make room for wireless!

John E. Rooney

President & CEO, U.S. Cellular


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