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Wicker Refiles Fair Contributions Act

Cruz, Thune Press FCC for Full Accounting of ACP, Other COVID-19 Program Disbursals

Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Communications Subcommittee ranking member John Thune, R-S.D., pressed the FCC Thursday for a detailed accounting of its distribution of money to four broadband programs enacted via the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and COVID-19 aid measures. Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Senate Communications Subcommittee Chairman Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., meanwhile, led refiling of the Funding Affordable Internet with Reliable (Fair) Contributions Act.

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Cruz and Thune sought FCC details by March 29 about its disbursals and planned outlays for the affordable connectivity program, its predecessor emergency broadband benefit program, emergency connectivity fund and COVID-19 telehealth program. Thune began his own review in December of all federal broadband programs’ oversight of funding disbursals (see 2212060067). Cruz joined Thune in raising concerns about some of these programs since taking over as lead Commerce Republican in January (see 2301260055).

Ensuring these funds are well spent is essential to improving broadband connectivity, and American families deserve to know that their taxes are going to programs free of waste, fraud, and abuse,” the GOP leaders wrote FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Unfortunately, as with other pandemic-era legislation, it appears that waste, fraud, and abuse may be widespread in these programs.” The FCC didn’t comment.

Although the FCC and its OIG have done some good work to mitigate some of the worst instances of waste, fraud, and abuse of these programs, much more needs to be done to ensure there is a full and accurate accounting of the billions of tax dollars appropriated to these programs,” Cruz and Thune said. They cited past FCC Office of Inspector General reports about fraud in the EBB and ACP programs and a January GAO report that found problems with the commission’s goals and measures for ACP efficacy.

The Fair Contributions Act language Wicker and Lujan refiled Thursday would direct the FCC to study “the feasibility of funding Universal Service Fund through contributions supplied by edge providers” like Google-owned YouTube and Netflix. The study should examine “the class of firms and services on which contributions could be assessed, including an inquiry into the specific sources of revenue potentially subject to contributions, such as digital advertising revenue and user fees” and USF contribution “equity issues.” Wicker first filed the measure in 2021 while he was still Senate Commerce Committee ranking member (see 2107210067).

It is important to ensure the costs of expanding broadband are distributed equitably and that all companies are held accountable for their role in shaping our digital future,” Wicker said. “This report will examine how the largest tech companies can pay their fair share,” Lujan said. “The future is online and it’s critical that essential broadband programs receive robust funding.”