At a press event earlier today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced plans to reform the Universal Service Fund (USF) as part of the National Broadband Plan. The following statement may be attributed to Benton Foundation Chairman and CEO Charles Benton:
The Benton Foundation commends the FCC's Herculean efforts to draft the National Broadband Plan and to ensure affordable broadband for all. Since 1934, the goal of our nation's communications law has been to "make available...to all people of the United States...a rapid and efficient, nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communications service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges." The Commission said today that it is updating this commitment for the digital age.
Benton is especially pleased to hear the FCC reiterate today its commitment to reform the USF and to help make broadband service available to and affordable for low-income households. For many years, the Commission has recognized that the universal service principles enshrined in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 cannot be realized if low-income support is provided for service inferior to that supported for other subscribers.
If the FCC pursues pilot programs to experiment with a transition of the Lifeline and LinkUp programs that today support traditional telephone service to the broadband adoption programs of tomorrow, it must do so with the help of rigorous academic support both in the shaping and evaluation of these programs. Data-driven policy demands it. A number of locales, like North Carolina, seem prepared to offer the FCC testing grounds.
But pilot programs should not be indefinite. Care must be taken in the digital age so the U.S. does not continue as a nation of digital haves and have-nots. Already, millions lack broadband access in the home. We should not ask them to continue waiting for the civic, economic, educational, health, and public safety benefits that broadband offers.