Today, U.S. Representatives Rick Boucher (D-VA), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, and Lee Terry (R-NE) introduced the Universal Service Reform Act of 2010. The measure will improve and modernize the Universal Service Fund (USF) by reining in the size of the fund and promoting broadband deployment. Boucher and Terry circulated a discussion draft of the legislation in November.
"The Universal Service Fund is broken. Consumers currently pay more than thirteen percent of long distance revenues into the fund and have at times this year contributed over fifteen percent. Our legislation is a comprehensive and forward-looking measure, which will control the spiraling growth of the Universal Service Fund while ensuring that sufficient universal service support is available on a technology-neutral basis to the carriers which rely on it to provide service. The measure will expand who pays into the Fund, control the growth of the Fund and modernize the Fund by allowing its use for the deployment of high-speed broadband service," said Boucher and Terry.
"The Universal Service Fund helps provide essential communications services to millions of customers in rural areas, and the legislation we introduced today will assist with the deployment of broadband, especially in rural areas, by declaring broadband to be a universal service and requiring universal service fund recipients to offer high-speed broadband services throughout the areas where they receive support," Boucher noted. "Like the National Broadband Plan, the measure recognizes that it may not be economic to serve the most remote areas with wireline technologies and permits the resale of satellite broadband to ensure broadband availability in those places."
"The current Universal Service fund has failed to keep up with the changing telecommunications landscape," said Congressman Terry. "This bill is a comprehensive approach that will ensure high speed broadband service is available to many more customers in Nebraska and across the nation, especially in rural areas."
The Act will ensure the continued viability of the Universal Service Fund by limiting universal service support in areas where there is competition among providers of voice and broadband services and directing the FCC to adopt a competitive bidding process to determine which wireless carriers will receive universal service support. The measure also directs the FCC to establish and implement performance goals for each universal service fund program and to determine the appropriate methodology for audits of universal service fund recipients.
"After we circulated our discussion draft last year, we undertook a lengthy process of consultation with stakeholders and others with an interest in the Universal Service Fund. The legislation we have introduced today is the result of that process and reflects broad areas of consensus. We look forward to working with our colleagues on the Energy and Commerce Committee to get the Universal Service Fund under control by enacting this reform," Boucher and Terry concluded.
The Boucher-Terry measure has been endorsed by the American Public Communications Council, Inc., AT&T, CenturyLink, Frontier Communications, the Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, OPASTCO, Qwest, USTelecom, Verizon, Vonage and the Western Telecommunications Alliance.