Senator Joni Ernst visits Panora Telco on March 2 to speak with Panora Telco employees and Guthrie County community leaders. Pictured above are Senator Joni Ernst (left) and Panora Telco General Manager Andy Randol.

Senator Joni Ernst visits Panora Telco

Senator discusses Universal Service Fund, infrastructure at local visit

As part of her 99 county tour, Senator Joni Ernst made a stop at Panora Telco on March 2 to discuss the Universal Service Fund (USF), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), infrastructure and more. 

Employees of Panora Telco and community leaders were in attendance at the event to ask communications-related questions and voice concerns regarding various current events and issues. 

The Universal Service Fund and rural communications were among the most important topics of discussion for the group. 

The FCC defines universal service as “the principle that all Americans should have access to communication services.” According to the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) the Universal Service Fund is “money collected from telecommunications companies and dedicated to fulfilling the goals of universal service.” 

“A telephone company or broadband provider is supposed to serve all the customers in a designated area, and then in return, to help fulfill that obligation, the Universal Service Fund is to reduce the cost of doing that in high-cost areas,” explained Iowa Communications Alliance CEO Dave Duncan. 

Duncan explained to Senator Ernst that this funding is not adequate because funding levels were capped at the 2011 rates. Since then, the FCC has transitioned the USF program from supporting telephone lines to supporting broadband, which is more expensive to deliver. Therefore, communications companies are expected to use the same pool of funds to deliver more expensive services. 

In response, Senator Ernst shared a story about a woman in Ringgold County who operated a small business from home but could not afford internet service because of her rural location. 

“She would drive into town, park outside of the ISU Extension Office and sit in her car to use their Wi-Fi to do her business,” said Ernst. “That’s no way to develop and grow a small business. We shouldn’t have to do that. We have to provide affordable quality services for those that are in the rural areas. 

A number of Guthrie County community leaders attended the meeting to testify the importance of communications services in rural Iowa. 

“We use Panora Telco’s services for almost everything that we do,” said Panora State Bank President Julie Dent-Zajicek. “I can’t stress enough how important it is that we have good communication services, and that’s what allows us to compete with larger banks.” 

Senator Ernst also discussed preparations for an infrastructure bill, which she hopes to see yet this year.

“The president’s proposal with infrastructure is 200 billion dollars that he would leverage,” Ernst explained. “His goal is pretty lofty. He wants to leverage those dollars to gain about 1.5 trillion in spending. We’re putting a plan together as best we can given the guidance coming from the administration.”

To close out the session, Ernst touched on issues currently being discussed in the Senate, specifically addressing DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and the recent Florida school shooting that resulted in the deaths of 17 students and teachers.

“I’m a big proponent of the second amendment, but (I) understand that there are certain people who, as long as there’s due process involved, should not have weapons,” Ernst said in response to the shooting. “This young man in Florida, if the laws had been followed, he would not have been able to get a weapon because he had already shown signs of instability.” 

Senator Ernst thinks that gun control will continue to be a very big debate in Congress and believes legislation may be considered. 

“There are some active discussions going on right now, and there will need to be a lot of debate about what is the right way forward because we want to uphold the second amendment and make sure that we’re protecting law-abiding citizens,” said Ernst. “What we have to do is identify where there are failures. What we are finding is that local communities are not reporting accurately or on time. We want to make sure that gets fixed.” 

Ernst says the best way to fix this issue is to streamline the process to make it easier for small local governments to report felons to the federal government.

 

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