FCC Proposes Capping Fund Used to Close the Digital Divide

The Benton Foundation reports…

On Friday, May 31, the Federal Communications Commission launched a proceeding to seek comment on establishing an overall cap on the Universal Service Fund (USF). USF programs provide subsidies that make telecommunications and broadband services more available and affordable for millions of Americans. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) asks a lot of questions about how an overall cap to the fund would work. But does this NPRM actually move the U.S. nearer to closing the digital divide?

They look at the various USF programs…

  1. Connect America Fund (formerly known as High-Cost Support) — The largest of the four programs, CAF provides subsidies to telecommunications companies to expand connectivity infrastructure (wired and wireless, telephony and broadband) in unserved or underserved areas.
  2. Schools and Libraries (E-Rate) Program — Provides discounts to schools and libraries to ensure affordable access to high-speed broadband and voice services.
  3. Rural Health Care Program — Allows rural health care providers to pay rates for broadband services similar to those of their urban counterparts, making telehealth services affordable.
  4. Low-Income (Lifeline) Program — Assists people with lower-incomes to make monthly telephone (wireline or wireless) and broadband charges more affordable. The Lifeline program is the only USF program that lacks a self-enforcing cap, but it is under its own “soft cap” limit.

The article goes into great (and interesting!) detail about the hows and whys the programs might change. What gets to the point to those who are counting on government partnership to get better broadband might be most interested in their concerns…

1. Pits Programs Against Each Other

2. Mapping, Not Capping

3. At Odds with FCC’s Statutory Duty

And their conclusion…

The adoption of the NPRM — on a 3-2 party-line vote — now means the FCC will take public comment (technically, after the NPRM is published in the Federal Register) for three months before, theoretically, considering this input and moving to a final vote.

The Benton Foundation released a press release after the NPRM was released last week. Being late on a Friday afternoon, you will hopefully excuse us for being a bit blunt: “The FCC once again proves that Friday is ‘take out the trash day’ in our national capital; its latest proposal is pure garbage.”

You can follow along with the debate around USF daily by subscribing to Headlines — the only free, reliable, and non-partisan daily digest that curates and distributes news related to universal broadband.

The FCC may need to look at the value of the investments they are making but it seems that how much is spent is not the greatest issue. It seems like they need to look at the long term impact of the speed requirements they are currently making in rural broadband deployment. Providers are getting funded to upgrade or expand to 10 Mbps down and 1 up. That is not future proof, or even future likely development.

I have three daughters in Minnesota and Winnipeg. I don’t save money buying their spring jackets for winter because they are cheaper. I make sure we buy good winter coats they can wear for several years.


This entry was posted in FCC, Funding, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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