The US Federal Communications Commission has unveiled plans to extend the country's universal service fund to broadband services.
The proposals will form part of the National Broadband Plan, to be presented to Congress on 17 March. The proposal would create a Connect America fund inside the Universal Service programme to subsidize broadband, and a Mobility Fund to expand the reach of 3G mobile networks, Blair Levin, the FCC official overseeing the broadband plan, told a press briefing. The Universal Service Fund currently subsidizes phone service for the poor and in remote areas, funds internet access in schools and libraries and pays for high-speed connections for rural health clinics. Funding for the USD 8-billion-a-year programme comes from a surcharge that businesses and consumers pay on their long-distance bills. The agency's plan will lay out several options to pay for the proposals, including one that would require no additional money from Congress and one that would accelerate the construction of broadband networks if Congress approves a one-time injection of USD 9 billion, AP reported from the briefing. Either way, Levin said, the proposal would not increase the annual size of the Universal Service Fund, but rather would take money from subsidies now used for voice services. The FCC would also seek to save money by subsidizing no more than one broadband provider in an area. Levin said Connect America would not favor one technology over another, be it cable, DSL or wireless.
The FCC proposal also envisions revamping the multibillion-dollar "intercarrier compensation" system for interconnection. Changes to the USF would affect revenues for rural carriers dependent on the funding, so changes would also be needed in the interconnection regime. The operators' industry group USTelecom said it welcomed the progress towards reform and plans to work with the commission on details of the plan.