Washington, D.C. – The Rural Wireless Association has requested reform of the FCC’s Universal Service program in response to the Notice of Inquiry seeking comments on the future of the Universal Service Fund. RWA noted that the USF is unsustainable as currently constructed. When the 1996 Telecommunications Act was signed into law, voice telecommunications ruled the day and was the primary service supported by the USF. Circumstances have since changed. An explosion of innovation pushed consumers to use more data and demand higher speeds and lower latency. This demand resulted in the need for more spectrum to keep up with the evolving networks and transformed the dominant means of communications from telecommunications voice connectivity to broadband data connectivity.
Now in a world consumed by faster and more robust broadband connectivity, it is time for the Commission to update its USF framework. With the passage of the Infrastructure Act that will fund even more broadband deployment across the nation, the USF will need to be able to quickly adapt to be able to support the provision of broadband service to high cost areas that do not have enough population to create the revenue needed to sustain ongoing operations and maintenance.
RWA recommends three different strategies that the Commission could employ to both protect the sustainability of the USF and ensure that the FCC’s universal broadband goals are met. First, the FCC should transition high-cost support for fixed broadband to ongoing support to maintain the networks that are deployed through the Infrastructure Act funds and through current high cost programs that are set to conclude on or before 2028. Second, the FCC should develop a model-based support mechanism to enable and sustain 5G mobile networks to replace the reverse auction framework that has been proven to result in unsecure and subpar broadband networks. Third, the Commission should immediately move forward with reforming its USF contribution methodology to include broadband revenue as part of the contribution factor.
In addition, RWA proposes that Congress consider legislation that collects a penny at the point of sale for every commercial transaction that takes place using broadband. One hundred trillion commercial transactions would equate to $1 trillion. This money could be used not only for further infrastructure reform and development, but could also be used to bring down the national debt and lower taxes.
RWA’s comments are available here.