By Ryan Johnston
Created in 1997, the Universal Service Fund (“USF”) established four programs to expand telecommunications and advanced services such as high-speed Internet access. These programs were established as permanent support mechanisms to help connect the nation’s hardest to reach places and low-income populations.
As part of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act (“IIJA”), Congress tasked the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) with creating a report on the state of the USF. The agency is required to detail the impact that new funding programs could have on universal service. The FCC is also expected to report on whether the USF is still advancing universal service goals.
Next Century Cities led comments with allied organizations, the National Consumer Law Center and Common Sense Media, which highlighted the following points:
- reducing USF programs, such as the Lifeline Program, could have significant public safety implications;
- the USF maintains a minimal amount of parity between those with a fixed connection and those who rely on mobile connections;
- After IIJA funding programs end, the USF must be nimble enough to respond to the evolving connectivity needs;
- The FCC must have the ability to review and revise USF program structures; and
- Congress should consider revising rules that allow only eligible telecommunications carriers to participate in USF programs.
While the IIJA is intended to react to the immediate concerns of states and localities across the country, the USF programs are intended to promote long-term and reliable connectivity for households living on the margins. That is why Next Century Cities supportsUSF policies that meet the evolving needs of newly connected communities.
Read the full FCC filing here.