Reaction to FCC Proposal to Cap USF

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Washington policymakers and advocates are reacting to news that the Federal Communications Commission will propose to cap the Universal Service Fund.

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks took to Twitter: "How can we talk about capping our Universal Service programs at a time when the Commission doesn’t seem to have a good handle on who currently has broadband and who does not?" 

"To clarify, USF cap item proposes 2018 AUTHORIZED level ($11.42B) not DISBURSEMENT level," tweeted FCC Commissioner Mike O'Rielly. "IF adopted after comments, it would mean NO cuts to four existing programs and is indexed for inflation. Save the hyperbole for something else." 

National Consumer Law Center Staff Attorney Olivia Wein said, “Affordability is a main barrier for low-income households to access essential communications. A new report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau finds that telecommunications debt is one of the most common types of debt sought by creditors or debt collectors. It is premature for the FCC to consider capping the Lifeline telecommunications program, which is funded through the Universal Service Fund, as it plays a critical role in bridging the digital divide for low-income households and will unnecessarily ration Lifeline support. Instead the FCC should ensure a competitive Lifeline marketplace with products that help close the homework gap, facilitate telemedicine, and help people to find and keep jobs.”

National Hispanic Media Coalition Vice President of Policy and General Counsel Francella Ochillo said, “Many Americans who benefit from USF programs, like Lifeline, are already struggling with poverty and disconnectedness. This proposal would add a layer of uncertainty to the only federal program that ensures that they maintain access to telephone or wireless broadband services. Last year, the Commission successfully helped destabilize the Lifeline program with proposals that threatened to disconnect millions of Lifeline subscribers and decimate competition. As that program faces constant attrition, the FCC has turned to the other USF programs to suggest additional cuts instead of improvements. Latino communities need the FCC to find ways to make good on its promise to bridge the digital divide instead of perfecting ways to undermine programs working towards that goal. Arbitrary budget cuts to Universal Service Funds will disconnect Americans who are starving for digital opportunities, especially in unserved and underserved communities that Latinos call home.”

"This proposal is extremely worrisome," said New America Policy Analyst Amir Nasr. "The Universal Service Fund is one of the Commission's most useful tools in bridging the digital divide. The Lifeline and E-Rate programs in particular have been vital in extending broadband access to millions of American consumers, schools, and libraries. The FCC should be working to strengthen these programs, rather than restricting them and pitting them against one another for funding. The very idea of capping USF budgets is misguided and unnecessary. Three out of four of the programs (Connect America Fund, Rural Health Care Program, and E-Rate) each already have caps in place, and recent reforms to Lifeline included a budget mechanism for the program. For Lifeline, expenditures have trended down, while the program continues to be underutilized relative to the the number of eligible users. Between 2012 and 2016, Lifeline expenditures decreased from $2.1 billion to $1.5 billion, and have since hovered at around $1.5 billion. And only 28 percent of eligible households actually participated in Lifeline in 2017. A budget cap on Lifeline would make it impossible for the Commission to reach the millions of unconnected Americans who are eligible for the program but have not enrolled.”


Reaction to FCC Proposal to Cap USF Commissioner Starks Statement of National Consumer Law Center Staff Attorney Olivia Wein Regarding FCC Proposal to Cap Critical Universal Service Fu