ruralThe rural telecom industry seems to have caught the attention of legislators.  Yesterday two members of the House of Representatives announced the formation of a bipartisan working group of the Energy and Commerce Committee that will work to “promote rural telecommunication issues within the Committee.”

The announcement comes just a week after the U.S. Senate held a hearing to discuss rural telecommunications issues.

The founders and co-chairs of the new bipartisan rural telecom working group are Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio).  The group will have a total of 18 members, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

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“The challenges facing rural Americans, especially in the area of telecommunications, cut across party lines,” said Welch and Latta in an announcement of the new working group. “From broadband access and spectrum issues, to problems with call completion, rural areas of our districts often have unique concerns. This bipartisan working group will serve as a forum to educate committee members on rural issues to ensure that rural priorities are understood and addressed in the important work of this committee.”

Specifically the group pledged to meet to highlight issues such as rural call completion and spectrum auctions. The announcement does not reference Universal Service reform or the Connect America Fund, which are top of mind in the rural telecom industry. But there are references to “broadband access” and “broadband speed” – and it would seem impossible to discuss those areas without delving into USF and CAF.

Rural broadband association NTCA wasted no time in issuing a press release praising the creation of the rural telecom working group. “We appreciate the committee members’ willingness to devote more of their attention to seeking smart policy solutions,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA, in the release.

In addition to Latta and Welch, other representatives participating in the rural telecom working group include:

  • John Barrow (D-Ga.),
  • Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.),
  • Bruce Braley (D-Iowa),
  • Lee Terry (R-Neb.),
  • G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.),
  • H. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.),
  • Lois Capps (D-Calif.),
  • Billy Long (R-Mo.),
  • Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.),
  • Corey Gardner (R-Colo.),
  • Doris Matsui (D-Calif.),
  • Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.),
  • Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.),
  • Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.),
  • Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), and
  • Bill Cassidy (R-La.).

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