House Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Expand USF

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A bi-partisan delegation of House lawmakers introduced The Universal Broadband Act to ensure rural Americans have an opportunity to access reliable broadband services. The Universal Broadband Act will achieve this goal by expanding the Universal Service Fund (USF) contribution base to include broadband services, rather than the current outdated model that draws support solely from telephone services, according to legislators.

The costs of building out service to areas without adequate broadband continues to rise, while the current base that contributes to the USF is declining. This has resulted in an increasingly growing contribution factor, overburdening those who are required to contribute, according to sponsors Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Don Young (R-AK). They have bipartisan support from Reps. T.J. Cox (D-CA), Hal Rogers (R-KY), Angie Craig (D-MN), Frank Lucas (R-OK), Luis Correa (D-CA), Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ), Ed Case (D-HI), and Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX).  

“Reliable broadband is a utility, every bit as necessary as electricity,” said Peterson. “From distance learning to telehealth and the transitions of working from home during a public health crisis, broadband is more important than ever. It’s unacceptable that rural communities have limited, unreliable or worse yet no broadband access.”

The Universal Broadband Act would provide long-awaited reinvestment into the USF that prioritizes building out broadband without over-burdening the FCC from extensive new regulations. The bill would:

  • Codify that broadband is within the definition of Universal Service;
  • Require the Commission to set the contribution rate as needed to meet Universal Service goals and serve all Americans;
  • Require consultation between USDA’s Rural Utility Service (RUS), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and the FCC;
  • Create reporting requirements to ensure the agency is meeting build out goals; and
  • Prioritize unserved areas, and further ensure tribal areas are served.

Telecom industry associations support the measure, including NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association and WTA – Advocates for Rural Broadband. NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield said the system that governs contributions to the USF has eroded and become less stable. “By directing the expansion of the USF contribution base to include broadband access services—those very services that have become a primary focus of our country’s shared universal service mission—this bipartisan bill, which NTCA endorses wholeheartedly, charts a course for steadier long-term support of the USF program on a more equitable basis, and it will therefore help to promote achievement of all aspects of that mission.”

WTA SVP Government & Industry Affairs Derrick Owens said: “If Congress were designing the USF program today, it would never structure it the way it is currently structured. This bill would fund USF consistent with the services being offered in the 21st Century.”

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