Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and a bipartisan group of 10 senators asked the FCC, the Commerce Department, and the Agricultural Department Monday to put serving unserved communities at the top of the list when doling out billions in economic stimulus grant money.
In a letter to Acting Chairman Michael Copps and the other commissioners, Shaheen and company urged them to "prioritize" getting broadband to unserved areas. The charter also includes serving "underserved" areas, though defining that will be one of the challenges of administration.
The letter squares with the cable industry's preference for spending stimulus money on the 8% or so of households that don't get broadband, rather than funding competition to already established providers.
"The legislation provided federal agencies with $7 billion for broadband deployment programs, but it also contained a number of priorities for agencies to consider in allocating those funds," wrote the senators. "Bringing broadband to unserved rural areas, however, must be our first priority because economic recovery will be difficult to achieve in rural communities without broadband access."
The letter came on the eve of a meeting among the three agencies, the first of several, about how to allocate the $7.2 billion. Commerce gets $4.7 billion, the Agriculture Department $2.5 billion, with an assist from the FCC, which also has to come up with a plan to get broadband to every home in the nation.
Also signing on to the letter were Senators Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).