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House Commerce Committee Seeks Review of Universal Service Program

WASHINGTON, June 18, 2010 – In a letter to FCC Chairmen Julius Genachowski the leaders of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce have request a review of the Universal Service Program.

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WASHINGTON, June 18, 2010 – In a letter to FCC Chairmen Julius Genachowski the leaders of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce have request a review of the Universal Service Program.

The Congressmen want “An updated list of the top ten recipients, by holding company, of high-cost support for calendar years 2007, 2008, and 2009”; along with a state by state accounting of disbursements for each of the USF Programs for 2007-2009.

Additionally they want “A list of the ten study areas with the most eligible telecommunications carriers, including competitive eligible telecommunications carriers, and including for each study area”.

It appears as though the committee is seeking to fully account for the funds used by the USF prior to any potential reorganization of the program. The National Broadband Plans calls for the dismantling of the program and the creation of two new programs to replace it.

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

Senate

Experts Suggest Measures to Protect Affordable Connectivity Program at Senate Hearing

Under consideration: Opening the Universal Service Fund to contributions from broadband and Big Tech companies.

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WASHINGTON, September 28, 2023 – A broadband association asked Congress last week to open the Universal Service Fund to contributions from broadband and Big Tech revenues to allow the umbrella fund to absorb and support the Affordable Connectivity Program.

The industry is concerned that the $14-billion ACP program, which discounts monthly services for low-income Americans and those on tribal lands, is going to run out of money by early next year. Meanwhile, it is universally agreed that the Universal Service Fund, which includes four high-cost broadband programs, is struggling to maintain its roughly $8-billion annual pace without a diversification of its revenue sources.

Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom, told the Communications and Technology subcommittee studying the future of rural broadband on September 21 that Congress could both support the sustainability of the USF and the ACP by forcing contributions from broadband and Big Tech revenues.

The idea is that the extra revenue would solve the USF sustainability question by allowing the fund to continue to support the existing four programs under its purview, while also allowing it to adopt the ACP program, hence removing that program from reliance on Congress for money.

“We can have Congress give the FCC the authorities that it requires to be able to expand the contribution base, integrating the ACP within USF program, and thereby allowing the potentially out of control contribution factor that will potentially bog down the viability and longevity of the Universal Service Fund mechanisms to go down,” Spalter said.

“And in so doing it can expand the contribution base sufficiently to allow not only broadband but importantly the dominant Big Tech companies to participate so that we would effectively fuse the Affordable Connectivity Program with [high-cost program] Lifeline and do so in a way that would actually not require appropriated dollars from Congress.”

The ACP currently has around 21 million Americans signed up, but the FCC says many more are eligible. The commission has been allocating money to outreach groups to market the subsidy program.

While some have argued that the Federal Communications Commission could unilaterally expand the contribution base of the USF, the commission has elected to wait for Congress to make the requisite legislative reforms to give it that authority.

Forcing Big Tech companies, which rely on the internet to deliver their products, has been an idea tossed around by experts and promoted by Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr. Meanwhile, forcing broadband revenues to contribute to the fund has also received good support.

The concern for the ACP program is that the internet service providers rely on the $14 billion to continue to offer discounts.

“With funding set to be depleted early next year, initial notices of service termination could be out during the height of the holiday season in December – that’s a present none of our constituents deserve to receive,” said Congresswoman Doris Matsui, D-Calif.  

“Poverty is everywhere, but higher in rural America, in our region the reason most people can’t adopt service is due to lack of affordability, this impacts more households than lack of infrastructure alone,” said Sara Nichols, senior planner of the Land of Sky Regional Council of Government.

“It’s a program we simply can’t afford to lose,” added Nichols.

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Universal Service

Federal Broadband Subsidies Essential for Long-Term BEAD Success: Experts

It’s not just about building networks, but providing affordability through programs like the ACP.

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Scott Woods of Ready.net, Angie Kronenberg of INCOMPAS, Mike Romana of NTCA and David Bronston of Phillips Lytle

WASHINGTON, September 26, 2023 – The survival of federal broadband subsidies will be essential for the success of the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, expert panelists said at the Broadband Breakfast BEAD Implementation Summit on Friday.

Broadband providers building infrastructure with funding from the $42.5 billion BEAD program will be required to participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program. The ACP, comprised of $14 billion set aside by the 2021 Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, provides monthly internet subsidies of $30 for low-income households and $75 for residents of tribal lands and in high-cost areas. 

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel testified to the Senate on September 19 that the money is set to dry up as early as April 2024.

That could prevent people from being able to access the networks built with BEAD funds, said Angie Kronenberg, president of tech trade group INCOMPAS.

“That’s before the network has even been built,” she said of the estimated end date. “We really, really must have this issue addressed.”

A coalition of 45 members of Congress signed in August a letter to House and Senate leadership urging them to find money for the ACP in the appropriations bill that will fund the government for the next year. Congress is likely to miss the October 1 deadline for that bill and trigger a government shutdown.

The Universal Service Fund, which spends roughly $8 billion annually to fund four internet subsidy programs, also has an uncertain future. Lawmakers are looking to change its funding mechanism – currently a tax on voice providers – and conservative groups are challenging the fund in court.

Panelists said the USF subsidies, which help low-income households, healthcare providers, schools, and libraries, in addition to rural providers in expensive-to-serve areas, will be essential for ensuring consistent, long-term access to broadband infrastructure built with BEAD and other federal funds.

“Getting people onto the network is the goal here, it’s not just planting a flag or ‘mission accomplished’ banner for building the network,” said Mike Romano, executive vice president of the Rural Broadband Association.

Scott Woods, president of public-private partnerships at broadband grant company Ready.net, agreed that expanding networks is only part of the goal for the BEAD program.

“We could spend $200 trillion on infrastructure,” he said, “but if the people it’s designed to impact can’t afford it, it’s stranded assets.”

The discussion was moderated by David Bronston, special counsel at Phillips Lytle, LLP.

If you missed the BEAD Implementation Summit, sign up for Broadband Breakfast’s BEAD Starter Pack for $35/month (cancel anytime). You’ll get access to all the videos and each of the three Breakfast Club reports prepared for the BEAD Implementation Summit:

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Broadband's Impact

Tech Trade Group Report Argues for USF Funding from Broadband Companies

Consulting firm Brattle Group said in a report the move would be economically sound.

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Screenshot of Chip Pickering, INCOMPAS CEO

WASHINGTON, September 19, 2023 – Tech company trade group INCOMPAS and consulting firm Brattle Group released on Tuesday a report arguing for adding broadband providers as contributors to the Universal Service Fund.

The USF spends roughly $8 billion each year to support four programs that provide internet subsidies to low-income households, health care providers, schools, and libraries. The money comes from a tax on voice service providers, causing lawmakers to look for alternative sources of funding as more Americans switch from phone lines to broadband services.

The Federal Communications Commission administers the fund through the Universal Service Administration Company, but has left it to Congress to make changes to the contribution pool.

The report argues that broadband providers should be one of those sources. It cites the fact that USF funds are largely used for broadband rather than voice services and that broadband adoption is increasing as phone line use decreases.

“The USF contribution base needs to change to account for the fact that connectivity implies not just voice telephone services, but predominantly broadband internet access,” the report says.

It also rebuts arguments for adding tech companies like INCOMPAS members Google and Amazon to the contribution pool, saying they represent a less stable source of income for the program and that added fees for services like streaming could affect . 

The report is the latest salvo in an ongoing dispute between tech companies and broadband providers over who should support the USF in the future, with broadband companies arguing big tech should be tapped for funding as they run businesses on the networks supported by the fund.

Sens. Ben Lujan, D-N.M., and John Thune, R-S.D. established in May a senate working group to explore potential reforms to the program. The group heard comments in August  from associations of tech and broadband companies, each outlining arguments for including the other industry in the USF contribution base.

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