Phase Down of Lifeline Subsidy Endangers Universal Service

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The December 1st reduction of the SLC to $5.25 per month will not allow full cost recover to many RLECs under the FCC’s High-Cost program.

So said NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association – to a number of FCC representatives in recent meetings, saying the shortfalls incurred may be unrecoverable under existing rules. It offered the possibility of waivers to the Lifeline subsidy phasedown for ETCs that charge a SLC.

While waivers to the phasedown, or other changes to the SLC, might serve as effective means to solve this immediate issue, the real basis of this problem lies in the regulation of small telephone companies vs. mega broadband providers. Quite simply, RLECs and other franchised. traditional telephone companies are required to provide Universal Service at affordable rates. Broadband providers – often huge, multi-state or multi-national corporations – are not.

These broadband providers, with their almost unlimited resources, can pick off the most successful residential and business customers of the more heavily regulated small, local telcos, leaving them to provide service to their least affluent subscribers – universal service, at affordable rates, no less.

It would seem that broadband providers, which have never been burdened with universal service requirements, should finally begin to share in these federally mandated social obligations. The incoming Democrat FCC should, as one of its first agenda items, begin to study how broadband companies might more equitably share, and ease, the USF burden on RLECs and others.

Perhaps – as a good start — a USF recovery fee, flowing from the broadband provider to the ETC/LEC, should be hard-wired into all applicable interconnection agreements.