TR Daily Bipartisan Bill Would Expand USF Contribution Base
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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Bipartisan Bill Would Expand USF Contribution Base

With bipartisan support, Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) and Don Young (R., Ark.) today introduced a bill that would expand the contribution base for the Universal Service Fund to include broadband services, rather than relying on the shrinking current contribution base of interstate and international telecommunications services.

The proposed Universal Broadband Act would also “[c]odify that broadband is within the definition of Universal Service,” “[r]equire the FCC to set the contribution rate as needed to meet Universal Service goals and serve all Americans”; “[r]equire consultation between [the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s] Rural Utility Service (RUS), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and the FCC”; “[c]reate reporting requirements to ensure the FCC is meeting their build out goals”; and “[p]rioritize unserved areas, and further ensure tribal areas are served,” according to a press release from Rep. Peterson’s office.

Co-sponsors include Reps. T.J. Cox (D., Calif.), Hal Rogers (R., Ky.), Angie Craig (D., Minn.), Frank Lucas (R., Okla.), Luis Correa (D., Calif.), Jeff Van Drew (R., N.J.), Ed Case (D., Hawaii), and Vicente Gonzalez (D., Texas).

Rep. Peterson said, “It’s unacceptable that rural communities have limited, unreliable or worse yet no broadband access. In response to these inequities I have introduced the Universal Broadband Act that secures adequate funding to support the construction of broadband infrastructure in rural and underserved areas without having to increase the national debt.”

Rep. Young said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of broadband access for our communities, schools, and health care providers. We must work so that those in our rural areas can have access to the connectivity they need to keep their families safe and give them a semblance of normalcy.”

Rep. Rogers said, “This legislation will help shore up the fund that allows us to support broadband expansion in communities where it’s needed the most for economic development.”

Rep. Gonzalez said, “By reforming the Universal Service Fund, the Universal Broadband Act provides a thoughtful solution and a stable revenue stream to fund long-term investment in marginalized communities and close the digital divide.”

Among industry supporters are NTCA and WTA.

NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield said, “Unfortunately, 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 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 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.”

Ms. Bloomfield added, “NTCA endorses this bill wholeheartedly, and with this more stable foundation beneath all of the essential universal service programs, NTCA’s members are eager to continue leading the charge in both deployment of networks and ongoing delivery of cutting-edge services at affordable rates in rural areas. We look forward to working with Congress on this critical issue as this debate moves forward.”

WTA Senior Vice President–government and industry affairs Derrick Owens said, “This legislation is long-overdue, and we support it. As we’ve seen during this pandemic, the ability to have access to affordable broadband at home is critical. USF helps with both network construction and affordability. We appreciate Reps. Peterson and Young taking the bold step to modernize the fund. All four USF program are focused on broadband; it makes no sense to solely assess long distance telephone revenues for contributions. If Congress were designing USF today, it would never structure it the way it is currently structured. The Universal Broadband Act would fund USF consistent with the services being offered in the 21st Century.” —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]

MainStory: FederalNews Congress UniversalServiceLifeline BroadbandDeployment

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