The pressure is on the FCC to modify Universal Service rules to allow small rural telcos to collect Universal Service funding for stand-alone broadband. More than 60 senators and 115 congressmen yesterday sent letters to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler calling on the commission to modernize the USF program so that network operators can have some of the costs of delivering service to high-cost areas covered, even if the customer only purchases broadband and not voice service.
“Small rural carriers have worked hard to provide innovative services to some of the most difficult-to-serve parts of our country, only to see obsolete, anti-consumer rules put broadband out of the reach of some consumers by unnecessarily cutting support,” says the letter signed by Democratic and Republican members of Congress.
The letter from the group of senators, which also included representatives of both parties, offered similar commentary. “Out-of-date rules tie high-cost USF cost recovery for small rural carriers to a consumer’s actual purchase of voice service, even if the consumer no longer wants that service and only wants broadband service,” the letter says. “The POTS requirement prevents rural consumers from making choices that are available to their urban counterparts.”
The letter from the members of Congress was spearheaded by North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer, while several senators reportedly were instrumental in moving the Senate letter forward –including Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), John Thune (R-S.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)
Last year a smaller group of senators (44) and a smaller group of representatives (nearly 90) sent similar letters to the FCC without results. But things could be different this year, as FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has pledged action on transitioning today’s voice-focused Universal Service program for rate-of-return carriers into a broadband Connect America Fund program – building on a similar transition already underway for the nation’s larger price cap carriers.
And just last week FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly discussed the importance of resolving various open items pertaining to USF reform, including stand-alone broadband.