Public Knowledge Director of Government Affairs Greg Guice will testify before the U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband Thursday, May 11 at 10:00 a.m. His testimony in the hearing on “The State of Universal Service” will urge Congress to help the universal service mission evolve to meet the new connectivity challenges we face as a nation.
The testimony will also argue that both Congress and the Federal Communications Commission play an important role in closing the digital divide. As the testimony explains, contribution reform is essential to achieving universal service by providing access to affordable, ubiquitous broadband no matter where people live or how much money they make.
The following is an excerpt from the testimony:
“[Over the last few years,] Congress rightly determined that funding to ensure not only broadband access to promote deployment in rural and Tribal communities was important, but also that broadband affordability was critical because broadband is an essential service. Congress also [recently] included one-time support for digital equity to ensure that individuals and communities have the skills to fully participate in the digital economy.
“As we move to the [implementation] phase [for] broadband funding provided by Congress, now is the right time to think about the current state of the universal service program; the interplay between the Congressional funding and USF; and what that might mean for potential reforms. Public Knowledge [testimony] will focus on three areas:
“The Affordable Connectivity Program has demonstrated how a well crafted program focused on [helping] low-income families get connected. With 17 million families enrolled, it is a huge success. The USF equivalent program, Lifeline, does not come close to that level of adoption. The FCC should consider structural changes to the Lifeline program to ensure that it is better serving low-income families.
“The historic investment and support Congress recently made in broadband deployment will help promote the deployment of robust broadband across the country. The USF equivalent program, the High-Cost program, provides support for costs associated with initial deployment (cap expenditures or capex) and the ongoing costs of maintaining and upgrading networks (operating expenses or opex). Savings from the reduction in capex could be used to support funding for hardening networks to make them more resilient against ever-increasing natural disasters.
“[Finally], all of this depends on stability in the funding base for USF. [O]ur universal service program is seeing a decline in the communications revenues it relies on to advance this critical mission. That fact alone should be enough to demonstrate the contribution mechanism is broken. If we do not fix the contribution mechanism, “preserving and advancing universal service” as Congress has directed is an infinitely harder task. Closing the digital divide is not a one-and-done effort; it takes ongoing work and that work is the work of the USF.”
You may view the testimony. View our recent blog post, “The Time for Can-Kicking Has Passed: Fix Universal Service Contribution Now,” for more information on USF.