WASHINGTON, December 7, 2009 - Broadband should be the central focus of the next generation of the Universal Service Fund, OPASTCO said Monday in comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission. TheOrganization for the Promotion and Aid of Small Telecommunications Companies' comments highlight a plan to push affordable broadband to the rural areas those carriers serve.
Under the OPASTCO proposal, the USF would support one fixed service and one mobile provider in each designated geographic area. Under the same plan, the current copper-based Public Switched Telephone Network would be transitioned to an all-broadband Voice over IP network after a seven year period.
OPASTCO's plan, as submitted to the FCC, has seven main points in addition to supporting one landline and one wireless provider per area. Rural incumbent carriers could "opt-in" to the program by demonstrating that actual costs of providing services exceed a qualifying threshold.
If permitted to join the new system, initial levels of support would be based off of current levels provided under the current Universal Service Fund regime.
Intercarrier compensation would be eliminated over a seven year transition period under the OPASTCO plan. As PSTN networks are transitioned over to broadband-based networks, ICC revenues would be folded into the overall level of USF support a carrier would receive under the new program.
“Our nation needs a reformed, sustainable High-Cost universal service program that addresses our country’s growing thirst for high-speed broadband," said Stuart Polikoff, OPASTCO’s vice president of regulatory policy and business development.
Broadband service would be a required offering for any USF-eligible provider under the OPASTCO plan, as all landline providers receiving support would be required to commit to offering broadband service at speeds equal to the national average broadband speed. End-user rates for those services would have to be reasonable comparable to the national average rate. Any recipient of USF funding would be required to submit to quality of service testing and oversight. In addition, programs to provide low income households with service would also be expanded to support broadband services for qualifying households.
"OPASTCO’s plan gives rural ILECs the necessary resources they need to serve as fixed broadband carriers of last resort, and each carrier can choose when to opt-in to the plan,” Polikoff said. “This ensures that residents and businesses everywhere, no matter where they are located, have access to the same advanced broadband services.”