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Sen. Ayotte pushes for bigger broadband bang for buck

MANCHESTER — Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte has introduced legislation to reform a national program for broadband expansion that currently returns only 37 cents for every dollar that New Hampshire contributes.

Despite being a net "donor" of more than $23 million to the Universal Service Fund each year, Ayotte said, the state continues to have significant pockets that lack access to crucial communications services, especially broadband technology.

Ayotte first announced her plan to introduce the "USF Equitable Distribution Act of 2013" during a visit to FairPoint Communication's central office in Manchester on Aug. 28.

She plans to release details of the bill in a press conference today at her Manchester district office, where she'll be joined by representatives from telecom companies, state officials and a board member from the New Hampshire High Tech Council.

The legislation would change the formula used to distribute money from the Federal Communication Commission's Connect America Fund, which is financed through a 15.5-percent surcharge that appears as "universal service access charge" on telephone bills.

Ayotte's legislation would ensure that a rural state is guaranteed at least 75 cents for every dollar it contributes, without increasing the size of the fund.

The fund, established in 1996, was at first aimed at telephone service, but has since been used to accelerate broadband build-out to the 18 million Americans living in rural areas who lack access to high-speed Internet service.

New Hampshire ranks 46 out of 50 states in the ratio of money collected for the fund versus money returned to the state for broadband expansion. The most recent data from 2011 released by Ayotte's office showed that New Hampshire contributed $37.9 million and received only $14.2 million in return.

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