July Breakfast Club Examines Connect America Fund Transition

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WASHINGTON, July 20, 2011 - The July Broadband Breakfast Club gathered key industry experts to discuss how the Universal Service Fund could be transformed to support next generation broadband communications technologies on Tuesday.

“The Universal Service Fund (USF) has done a great job in getting phone service out but now it needs to be reformed to support broadband,” said Joshua Seidemann, Director of Policy, the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA).

Broadband Breakfast: Making the Universal Service Fund Into a Universal Broadband Fund from Broadband Breakfast.

The panel all agreed that now is the time to reform the USF to support broadband rather than just "plain old telephone services." The Federal Communications Commission presented a road map for this changeover to broadband in the 2010 National Broadband Plan. The FCC USF reform plan recommends that two new funds be created a Connect America Fund which would support wired connections and a Mobility Fund that would support the expansion of wireless networks.

Hank Hultquist, Vice President, Federal Regulatory at AT&T commended the FCC saying that “the agency did a good job of showing up USF reform is tied to the digital transition currently going on.”

Russell Hanser, Partner at Wilkinson Barker Knauer, said that with new high-speed wireless technologies such as Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile broadband can be a viable substitute for wired connections.

Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at Brookings, Darrell West agreed with Hanser that wireless is a possible substitute for many people.

“The fund should allow consumers to choose which service they feel best fits their needs. Rather than just fund a single service directly, subsidies should be given directly to consumers so they can choose between wireless broadband, cellular phone service or wireline broadband,” West said.

To reduce costs and improve efficiencies within the program ICF International’s Michael Spead, Senior Technical Specialist, Broadband suggested that the Connect America Fund should model its funding program on the current E-Rate procurement program.  Spead also endorsed the idea of using reverse auctions as a way to find the best service for the lowest cost.

“By holding regular reverse auctions to determine the best level of funding for  broadband the government would not only be able to fund broadband but also increase speeds nationally by incrementally increasing the speed requirements,” Spead said.

A video of the full event can be found here.

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for BroadbandBreakfast.com since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

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