The Washington Post reports today that the FCC has proposed transitioning the Universal Service Fund, which currently supports the phone network, into a 21st-century fund that supports broadband.
We think this is a great idea – in fact, 20 months ago today we filed a proposal at the FCC recommending just such a transition:
In particular, AT&T proposes that the Commission transition those mechanisms to a Broadband Incentive Fund (for fixed networks) and an Advanced Mobility Fund (for mobile wireless networks), which will collectively support the voluntary deployment and offering of broadband service in unserved areas. The plan’s defining characteristics are cost control, accountability, state participation, and infrastructure build-out in unserved areas, the very guiding principles recently identified by the [[Federal-State Joint Board [[on Universal Service, which advises the Commission]].
So a big compliment here to the FCC and its broadband team for moving down this road. While the world of telecommunications and how consumers use these services has changed, the USF hasn’t. It’s still predominantly used to finance Plain Old Telephone Service. Everyone recognizes that the fund and how it’s administered is broken and needs to be fixed. Now, it’s time to move towards restructuring the USF to bring broadband access to those who are currently not served, in areas in which competitive market forces alone have been insufficient to achieve rapid broadband deployment.
In the world of the Universal Service Fund, new approaches, reforms, and thinking sometimes take time to take root – a lot of time. But in deploying broadband, there’s no time to waste. We hope that the FCC will take the step and commit to modernizing the USF in the National Broadband Plan in February.