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In a speech yesterday in Seattle, Federal Communications Commission Chair Jules Genachowski said that the Universal Fund was “broken.” “As the math of the overall Universal Service Fund gets worse each year, the importance of broadband to rural America gets greater,” Genachowski said. “There is a clear need to reform USF – not to end it, but to reorient USF to directly support broadband all over America.” 

Genachowski’s speech mentions “rural” dozens of times: “Roughly 50 million Americans live in rural areas of the country. If we want the United States to be the world’s leading market for the innovative new products and services that drive economic growth and job creation, we need rural Americans to be full participants in our economy. America needs a vibrant rural economy.”

The speech is filled with examples of how rural communities are using broadband. Oil and gas companies are managing their networks using broadband, Genachowski said. Farmers are managing their irrigation systems. Ranchers are selling cattle on online auctions. 

Unfortunately, “Only half of rural Americans have adopted broadband, compared to a 65% adoption rate for the nation. We estimate that broadband with actual speeds of at least 4 megabits per second downstream isn’t available at all in more than one out of three U.S. counties – almost all of them rural.”

Genachowski said the Universal Fund must be revamped so that it can be used to extend broadband.

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