WASHINGTON, November 3, 2021 – Telecommunications experts recommend that the Federal Communications Commission unilaterally broaden the Universal Service Fund’s revenue base to include broadband revenue, rather than wait for Congress to do so.
Advocates such as Public Knowledge Director of Government Affairs Greg Guicé Cite infighting in Congress over the bipartisan infrastructure bill as an example of ineffectiveness in the legislature that would block passage of urgent reform for USF, a fund that helps provide telecommunications services from base to low-income Americans and those in remote areas.
Telecommunications policy experts told INCOMPAS in Las Vegas on Oct. 25, which Guice was a panelist on, that it is critical that USF force broadband revenue into the fund pool because the fund is too dependent on it. voice revenues – even if those revenues decline. – puts a strain on the programs.
Guice and Carol Mattey, director of Mattey Consulting LLC and former deputy chief of the FCC, told Broadband Breakfast on Tuesday that the agency has the jurisdiction to broaden the base of contribution to USF under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 if it is in the public interest.
“My view is that the FCC has the statutory authority to assess broadband Internet access service,” Mattey said in an email. “Under applicable law – in particular, Section 254 (d) of the Telecommunications Act 1996 – the FCC has the statutory authority to require any ‘interstate telecommunications provider’ to contribute to the universal service if the public interest justifies it.
“The FCC has classified the broadband Internet access service as an information service,” she added. “According to the law of 96, the definition of an information service is a service which offers the capacity to generate, acquire, store, transform, etc. etc. information ‘via telecommunications’. “
Recommendations for reform
Mattey released a report in September that set out the case for expanding the fund to incorporate a range of broadband money sources, including broadband.
And there is no shortage of recommendations to make the fund prosper. Earlier this year, a panel of experts debated the merits of letting Congress fully assume contributions to the fund from taxpayers’ money, while others suggested that this recommendation would destabilize the fund because it would sway with the political winds. These people, instead, simply focused on expanding the base to include other sources, including broadband.
More recently, the commissioner of the FCC Brendan Carr wrote an op-ed in Newsweek recommending that the fund include contributions from Big Tech, as this industry benefits from broadband. It was a suggestion that the FCC President Jessica rosenworcel called “intriguing”.
But while Guice and Mattey advocate for the FCC to step in and make changes unilaterally, in a one-on-one interview with the Internet Innovation Alliance in September, FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington – pontificating on Carr’s recommendation for contributions to Big Tech – said he didn’t want to get ahead of Congress on the issue, suggesting a wait-and-see approach.
USF needs a change
Over the past two decades, USF has seen revenues subject to its assessment decline by 63%. This money is used to support four main programs: the high cost support for rural areas, Lifeline for low income areas, the E-rate program for schools and libraries as well as a health care support program in rural environment.
This year, the percentage of contribution to income has reached an all-time high.
The INCOMPAS trade show panel identified the main factor behind the decline in USF revenues, namely the decrease in mobile service revenues due to providers setting lower mobile rates. These declines occur despite a continued increase in communications revenues overall.