The FCC plans to outline ways in which the Universal Service fund can be reformed to more efficiently extend broadband service to rural areas.
To bring the U.S. up to
speed with many developed countries when it comes to broadband Internet access,
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski is expected to
offer a plan to streamline and reorganize an $8 billion fund. The fund-mostly
contained in the Universal Service Fund-is aimed at bolstering broadband
connectivity in rural U.S. homes, The New York Times reported.
According to a draft of
Genachowski's Feb. 7 remarks obtained by the paper, the USF was "designed for a
world with separate local and long-distance telephone companies, a world of
traditional landline telephones before cell phones or Skype, a world without the
Internet-a world that no longer exists."
The USF was created to meet
Congressional universal service goals as mandated by the Telecommunications Act
of 1996. One of the fund's main goals is to advance the availability of
broadband services to all consumers, including those in low-income, rural,
insular and high-cost areas, at rates that are reasonably comparable to those
charged in urban areas. A reorganizing of the fund, paid for with a $1 to $2
tax on U.S. citizens' phone bills, would include a consolidation of payment
methods and a phasing out of payments between telecommunications companies,
according to the Times report.
"At the end of this
transition, we would no longer subsidize telephone networks; instead, we would
support broadband [as a replacement for traditional phone lines]," Genachowski
said in his planned remarks. One overarching goal is to eliminate
"inefficiencies and perverse incentives," which Congress has battled as it has
watched the contribution rate by U.S. consumers nearly double in under a
On Feb. 8, the FCC will take
another step to further the goal of connecting all parts of the United States
to the digital age by convening leaders from federal, state and local
governments, broadband providers, telecommunications carriers, tower companies,
equipment suppliers and utility companies to identify opportunities to remove
regulatory and other barriers to broadband build-outs.
Participants are scheduled
to discuss creative approaches that have been used to overcome challenges and
foster cooperative, win-win situations in rights-of-way, pole attachment and tower
location. The conference also will explore how innovative technologies and applications,
such as smart-grid and intelligent transportation systems, and forward-looking
policies, such as "dig once" mandates and leveraging public infrastructure to
increase wireless communication capacity, can spur broadband deployment and
drive economic growth and job creation.
Speakers will include Phil
Weiser, senior advisor to the National Economic Council; Director for Technology
and Innovation, Peter Appel; administrator for the Research and Innovative
Technology Administration at the Department of Transportation; and Scott Blake
Harris, general counsel of the Department of Energy.
While politicians on both
sides of the aisle agree the fund and the United States' broadband
infrastructure require reform, the FCC often finds itself mired in partisan
bickering and legal action. In January, Verizon and MetroPCS filed suit
challenging the body's new rules regarding the contentious issue of net
neutrality regulation. The rules require all broadband providers to publicly
disclose network-management practices, restrict broadband providers from
blocking Internet content and applications, and bar fixed broadband providers
from engaging in unreasonable discrimination in transmitting lawful network
Nathan Eddy is Associate Editor, Midmarket, at eWEEK.com. Before joining eWEEK.com, Nate was a writer with ChannelWeb and he served as an editor at FierceMarkets. He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.