NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association has launched a campaign dubbed “Broadband Built to Last” that advocates for continuing the Universal Service Fund (USF) program. The association represents small rural providers, many of whom receive USF support.
Messages promoting the importance of a sustainable USF will appear in the Axios Tech section, Axios Pro Tech Policy newsletter, Communications Daily and the Politico Tech section throughout November.
“There is a lot of excitement around new broadband deployment programs, but the job for rural providers does not end once the last shovel is down,” said NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield in a prepared statement.
“It continues each and every day as [the providers] work to maintain networks and sustain service for their customers. The Universal Service Fund plays a unique role in helping ensure that rural Americans can continue to have reliable access to communications services at rates comparable to urban areas.
“We hope this campaign – combined with the strong grassroots advocacy of rural providers – will help educate policymakers and the public on why continued support for the USF is critical to sustain broadband networks built to last.”
A section of NTCA’s website focused on USF cites several ominous findings from a recent survey of 60 members:
- On average, rural consumers could be required to pay an additional $100 or more per month for 100 Mbps broadband.
- Nearly 110,000 rural customers served by just the 60 companies surveyed would lose out on better broadband over the next year.
- The 60 companies would have to cancel over $290 million in planned broadband construction in 2024 – roughly 83% of their planned investment.
- An additional $243 million in deployments in 2025 also would have to be canceled. Those deployments are about 86% of those planned.
The web page also recommends reforming how the USF is funded. As Telecompetitor and others have noted, the current funding method is becoming increasingly unsustainable. The reason is that providers fund the program as a percentage of long-distance voice network services, and those revenues are declining.
NTCA points to two pieces of bipartisan legislation that federal legislators have introduced.
The Reforming Broadband Connectivity Act – introduced as Senate Bill S.975 and as House Bill H.R. 1812 – would direct the FCC to reform the USF contribution system within one year by expanding the contribution base, NTCA notes.
The other bill, the FAIR Contributions Act, would “direct the FCC to study current and projected data transmission demands on rural broadband networks and the costs to rural broadband providers,” NTCA said.