Finally, legislation has been introduced in Congress to impose USF support payments on broadband service providers. The Universal Broadband Act, sponsored by Congressmen Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Don Young (R-AK) and supported by a bipartisan group of eight other Representatives, will – if passed – expand the USF contribution base to include all broadband services.
Broadband providers have had a dual advantage over telecommunications carriers: 1) the lighter-handed Title I regulatory regime which includes – among other pluses — no universal service obligations; and 2) their exemption from making any USF contributions. USF support has come solely from telephone services, while traditional, franchised telephone companies have been regulated by more stringent Title II regulations, which properly include universal service requirements.
We feel that the proposed act should help level the playing field, at least to some degree. Broadband carriers will at least be paying something for their freedom to cherry pick the best customers, given their very advantageous universal service exemption. Smaller telephone service providers – RLECs in particular – should in turn be better compensated for their having to serve everyone, including less-than- wealthy individuals, small businesses and others.
NTCA is an enthusiastic supporter of this legislation, with CEO Shirley Bloomfield saying, “even as the importance of universal broadband connectivity increases, the system that governs contributions to the Universal Service Fund (USF) – the program that enables such connectivity – has continued to erode and become less stable. By directing…the USF contribution base to include broadband access services…this bipartisan bill…charts a course for steadier long-term support of the USF…on a more equitable basis.”
Many other entities representing rural American interests also praised the Universal Broadband Act. We hope that its fundamentally fair and bipartisan nature will assure a quick passing and rapid implementation. It has been critically needed for a very long time.