Universal Service Fund
Cable operator Charter is participating in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) clean-up and notifying the Federal Communications Commission of census blocks it intends to remove from its RDOF plans. The FCC notified 197 winning bidders about concerns with their RDOF applications, suggesting there were numerous census blocks in those bids that shouldn’t qualify for the RDOF program.
The Federal Communications Commission announced that it is committing $1,159,681,350.34 for 2,471 schools, 205 libraries, and 26 consortia that applied for support from the $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund Program. Combined with the first funding wave, students, school staff and library patrons in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands will receive access to the devices and broadband connectivity they need to support their off-premises educational needs.
Telehealth can't succeed without expanding access to affordable broadband internet, witnesses told the Senate Commerce Committee on Oct 7. But extending the regulatory flexibilities around this access granted under the public health emergency, which are slated to expire when the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, is also critical, they said, stressing that the benefits of telemedicine can't be understated.
National Lifeline Association Discusses Lifeline and Emergency Broadband Benefit Programs with Rosenworcel's Staff
On October 4, 2021, the National Lifeline Association (NaLA) met with the Office of Acting Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Rosenworcel to discuss the Lifeline Program and the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program. The discussion focused on the Lifeline minimum service standards (MSS), getting the Lifeline program ready for the end of the EBB and certain Lifeline and EBB process improvements that should be made by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC).
The Federal Communications Commission announced that it is ready to authorize $163,895,636 to 42 providers in the second round of funding for new broadband deployments through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. The FCC is also continuing its work to refocus the program to ensure that funding goes to unserved areas that need broadband.
Included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill is $65 billion for broadband deployment. Most of that, $42 billion, is slotted for subsidies to rural communications networks, promising to conquer the digital divide. This is doubtful. The government has already expended at least $200 billion (in 2021 dollars) on the Universal Service Fund established by the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Most of the money was meant to extend networks that serve rural areas, but some was also allocated to schools and libraries, healthcare facilities and low-income mobile phone users.
Rep Elise Stefanik (R-NY) joined her colleagues in sending a letter to Acting Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel pushing for an end to the delay of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) distribution. In December 2020, the FCC announced Phase 1 awards under the RDOF, which would deploy broadband to 5.2 million unserved locations.
Reps Jahana Hayes (D-CT), and Marc Veasey (D-TX) introduced the Preventing Disruptions to Universal Services Funds Act (H.R.5400) to extend access to federal funds for telecommunications programs for three years, eliminating the need for a yearly fund recertification. The bill was created to ensure internet access for millions across the country is not disrupted by federal funding costs allowing for continuous access to available resources.
There is currently a policy debate circulating asking who should pay to fund the Federal Communications Commission’s Universal Service Fund. For decades the USF has collected fees from telephone carriers providing landline and cellular phones – and these fees have been passed on to consumers. As landline telephone usage has continued to fall, the fees charged to customers have increased. To fix this, there have been calls to spread fees more widely.
As you might imagine, we thought there would be exciting news to share today about broadband. Not so much. As we wait for a vote on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (could it come today?