WASHINGTON—Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Ajit Pai sent a letter to Congressman Paul Tonko (NY-20) today responding to Tonko’s direct outreach to the agency in recent days following reports that FCC planned to rule New York State ineligible for $16 billion in federal Phase I Rural Digital Opportunity Fund grants. Pai promised in his letter to reverse the policy targeting New York State, but further review by Rep. Tonko and others suggests more changes need to be made to ensure more of New York State is eligible for funding.
“Leaving rural areas without access to broadband service limits their ability to participate and compete in many of the fastest-growing parts of our national economy, which is why I have worked with my colleagues in Congress and across New York to expand broadband access to every community,” said Tonko. “FCC’s original push here to cut New York out of the picture when it comes to federal broadband funding punishes our state for making rural broadband a priority and essentially forces New Yorkers to pay taxes twice for the same service—once for the state broadband expansion assistance they are receiving, and again for the federal service the FCC is attempting to unfairly deny our New York rural communities. Our delegation came together on a bipartisan basis to deliver our demand that the FCC treat New York like every other state and restore our eligibility for rural broadband funding.”
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai responded to Tonko in a letter today, saying in part, “With respect to your concern about how the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will impact New York, the draft report and order contained some overly broad language on that issue. I am pleased to inform you that this language will be removed from the item, and that the areas in New York eligible for Phase I of the program will be determined by the same neutral principles applicable to other states.”
While Pai’s letter promises to remove the language specifically prohibiting New York from receiving this federal broadband funding, the funding criteria might still exclude much of the state. Chairman Pai’s response comes ahead of a vote of the FCC commissioners today, and elicited a strong response from Tonko.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, whose dissent in the FCC’s decision today was inspired by her visit to New York’s Capital Region last year to hear from constituents who remain unserved or underserved, spoke out against New York’s exclusion. “Just a few years ago the agency worked with the state of New York to come up with a new way to address broadband challenges in the state. For this effort, it appears that New York is going to pay an unfortunate price by being largely blocked out of participation here. This is disappointing because we could have explored working more closely with states by having them match the federal dollars here.
“While I am relieved that Chairman Pai reversed course on excluding New York, the new policy is still extremely concerning for New York,” Tonko added. “I also remain concerned that the maps and data being used to allocate the funds are incomplete and further disadvantage New Yorkers. The people of New York have a right to expect fair treatment by the FCC and not have tax dollars taken directly from them to subsidize every other state that refuses to make rural broadband service a priority. My Congressional colleagues and I will do everything in our power to continue fighting to improve this unfair policy. Commissioner Rosenworcel has done an admirable job continuing to push to change these unfair rules that will deny New Yorkers access to broadband. The Chairman should pause this flawed effort.”
Congressman Antonio Delgado (NY-19), who co-led the recent New York Congressional delegation letter with Rep. Tonko raising the issue before the FCC, added, “I am pleased that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) has reversed its decision to categorically exclude all of New York State from its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase I auction. At $20.4 billion dollars, RDOF represents the primary source of all federal broadband funding for the next decade and nearly 80% will be spent during the program’s Phase I auction. The FCC’s initial plan to block New York’s Phase I participation was unjustified and unprecedented and I was proud to lead a bipartisan group of 22 of my New York colleagues in demanding a reversal. Today’s result is an important victory for our State, but it is just the first step of many needed to ensure upstate communities aren’t once again left on the wrong side of the digital divide. Of paramount importance will be the FCC’s treatment of regions that lack qualifying broadband service despite having received some degree of state support. I will continue to work closely with my partners in congress, New York State and the FCC to secure favorable outcomes for these high-cost, high-need upstate communities.”
Earlier this month, Reps. Tonko and Delgado led members of the New York Congressional delegation in a letter calling on FCC to reverse its plan to block New York State eligibility. That letter was co-led by Rep. Antonio Delgado and signed by Reps. Grace Meng, Eliot L. Engel, Sean Patrick Maloney, Brian Higgins, Adriano Espaillat, John Katko, Thomas R. Suozzi, Joseph Morelle, Max Rose, Anthony Brindisi, Nita Lowey, Elise Stefanik, Kathleen Rice, José E. Serrano, Jerrold Nadler, Nydia Velazquez, Gregory Meeks, Yvette D. Clarke, Peter King, and Carolyn B. Maloney.