In a Public Notice released December 15, 2023, the FCC announced the 2024 reasonable comparability rate benchmarks for fixed voice and broadband services for eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) that are subject to broadband public interest obligations. Compliance with the benchmarks is required of ETCs receiving USF support through ACAM, ACAM I, ACAM II, Enhanced ACAM, CAF-BLS, as well as other USF programs. In a Second Public Notice released on 12/26/23, the Commission revised the benchmarks for broadband service and announced that ETCs would have until February 1, 2024, to comply.
The requirement that ETCs comply with rate and performance benchmarks was established in the FCC’s 2011 USF/ICC Transformation Order. ETCs are to certify compliance with the benchmarks as part of the annual Form 481 filing due by July 1 of each year. The certification of compliance on July 1 of each year is for the previous calendar year.
Per the FCC’s rules, the 2024 reasonable comparability benchmark for voice services is set at two standard deviations above the average monthly urban rate for voice service which is currently $34.27. Therefore, the reasonable comparability benchmark for voice services, two standard deviations above the urban average, is set at $55.13 for 2024. ETCs providing fixed voice services must certify in FCC Form 481 filed no later than July 1, 2025, that the pricing of its basic residential voice services provided during 2024 is no more than $55.13.
In regard to the reasonable comparability benchmark for broadband service, the Table below provides information from the Second Public Notice relative to bandwidth, minimum usage allowances, and pricing for several different levels of broadband service. ETCs must offer at least one broadband service plan that meets or exceeds the build obligations for the USF support program they have elected at a price below the rate shown in the Table for that level of service. By way of example, an ETC that elected the Enhanced ACAM program has agreed to broadband buildout obligations at speeds of 100/20 and must offer at least one broadband plan at or exceeding these speeds at a price below the rates in the Table for 100/20 service. Carriers remaining on CAF-BLS or ACAM II for example have buildout obligations at speeds of 25/3 and must offer at least one broadband service below the rates for 25/3 in the Table. In cases where an ETC does not offer a broadband service plan that exactly matches the services shown on the Table, the FCC provides a tool that allows an ETC to enter the specific service characteristics for their broadband service offerings to determine the relevant benchmark service rate. As with voice service, ETCs must certify compliance with the relevant reasonable comparability benchmarks for broadband services provided during 2024 in the FCC Form 481 filing to be filed no later than July 1, 2025.
Due to the fact that the broadband benchmarks were revised in the Second Public Notice, the FCC has waived the requirement that ETCs comply with the benchmarks effective January 1, 2024, and has extended the compliance date until February 1, 2024. The FCC states that this waiver is intended to insure that ETCs have sufficient time to inform customers of any rate changes and to make any necessary changes to their billing systems.