Congress should provide funding for broadband, argues Verizon in a 28-page proposal titled Accelerating America: Affordability, Adoption, Access. Among other things, Verizon recommends lifting restrictions on municipal networks in unserved areas and providing $20 to $50 monthly on an electronic benefit transfer card for low-income users to be used for eligible services.
“It’s time for a bold, comprehensive and national broadband solution that connects people and communities,” Verizon argues on a web page devoted to the Accelerating America proposal.
The Verizon Accelerating America plan was driven, in part, by the realization that the funding mechanism for the FCC Universal Service Fund is increasingly unsustainable – an issue that others, including AT&T and Telecompetitor, also have raised. AT&T also has argued that Congress should fund broadband programs.
Verizon does not specify how much funding Congress should raise.
The company’s proposal to address affordability, however, would appear to require funding that would at least double the cost of the FCC’s current Lifeline low-income program. That program pays $10 per household toward the cost of a fixed or mobile broadband or voice service, and much of the responsibility for administering the program falls on service providers.
Verizon wants to see the benefit increase to between $20 and $50 and would shift more of the responsibility for administering the program to the government.
As for access, or broadband availability, Verizon argues in the Accelerating America proposal that the current Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) does not have a sufficient budget to make broadband available to all Americans and that current build-out deadlines are too far into the future.
“[P]lanned deployments, which will cover about 6-7 million homes and small businesses at speeds up to 1 Gbps, will substantially reduce the size of the rural deployment gap,” Version wrote. “But while significant, the programs funded by this approach still will not reach all of the unserved homes (and, in some cases, will not be complete) until the end of 2027.”
In the Verizon Accelerating America proposal, Verizon argues that the RDOF program should remain in place, but that Congress should appropriate sufficient funding to replace or supplement existing RDOF funding.
Verizon’s recommendation to lift certain restrictions on municipal broadband networks might seem surprising, coming from a company that is the incumbent local telecom company in some areas. Traditionally, municipal broadband networks have arisen in areas where the incumbent has not modernized its broadband network and where other choices such as satellite broadband are also unattractive. Incumbents traditionally have fought these networks because they are at risk of losing nearly all their business in the area if the municipal network begins offering much faster broadband.
Verizon, however, has sold off a large part of its local telecom operations outside major markets and may have less to lose from the municipal network threat in comparison with other incumbents.
The company also hedges its municipal network recommendation. For example, the company argues that municipal networks should be allowed in areas where service is not available and that are “unlikely to be served.”
In determining areas eligible for municipal networks, Verizon contemplates “a specific, granular process, looking for the areas where not only has there been no sustained private investment, but also where no entity has sought RDOF or other public funding to build.”
Verizon’s recommendations on digital literacy aim to address the 50% of people who don’t have broadband at home because they say they don’t want or need it.
The company recommends that Congress establish grants to support digital education and inclusion, “such as the $1.25 billion five-year digital equity grant program contemplated in the Digital Equity Act and the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act.”
These grants would be administered by the NTIA and would go toward state level digital equity plans and to organizations providing local and regional services, training programs or workforce development programs.
The full Verizon Accelerating America: Affordability, Adoption, Access proposal can be found at this link.