Government Affairs

USF Reform Kicks Off Now! FCC Solicits Comments on Universal Service Goals for Broadband; Invites Proposals to Overhaul USF Program Rules

December 17, 2021
USF Reform Kicks Off Now! FCC Solicits Comments on Universal Service Goals for Broadband; Invites Proposals to Overhaul USF Program Rules

Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) initiated a new proceeding (WC Docket No. 21-476) and issued a Notice of Inquiry seeking comments due January 18, 2022 on issues related to the impact of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (Act) on broadband. Along with expected comments on universal service goals for broadband, the FCC is seeking comments on the future of the federal Universal Service Fund (USF).

Comments (due January 18, 2022) sought on the FCC’s universal service goals for broadband and future of the USF

The FCC is seeking comments “consistent with congressional direction . . . in light of the broadband investments in the [Act].” Signed into law November 15, 2021, the Act includes a $65 billion broadband investment; requires the FCC to submit a report to Congress by August 12, 2022; and required the FCC to, within 30 days of enactment, “evaluate the implications of this Act and the amendments made by the Act on how the FCC should achieve the universal service goals for broadband.”

Promoting the FCC’s Universal Service Goals for Broadband

The Notice of Inquiry identifies multiple Act provisions intended to promote the FCC’s universal service goals for broadband and directs parties to focus comments “on how the various broadband-related provisions . . . will impact the effectiveness of [FCC] efforts to achieve these goals.” As expected, many comment requests related to such goals and the general impact of the Act, including:

  • Appropriateness of the FCC’s definition of its universal service goals (“universal deployment, affordability, adoption, availability, and equitable access to broadband throughout the United States”);
  • How best to evaluate effectiveness of the existing USF to achieve those goals;
  • Impacts of the Act on and potential changes that should be made to the NTIA’s High-Cost Broadband Program; Lifeline and the Affordable Connectivity Program; E-Rate and Emergency Connectivity Fund Program; and Rural Health Care Program.

FCC Open to Comments on USF Reform

The FCC also specifically sought comments related to the USF, building on a push for USF reform that has been gaining momentum and support, regarding:

  • Proposal to improve quarterly contribution factor stability and
  • Potential recommendations to Congress to amend Communications Act section 254 or take other legislative actions related to USF, noting, “[f]or example, . . . whether changes in law are necessary or appropriate to update the system of universal service contributions.”

Based on the FCC’s reference to a prior press release by Commissioner Carr that called for “Ending Big Tech’s Free Ride on the Internet” and Commissioner Carr’s statement in support of the Notice of Inquiry, the FCC indicated openness to comments supporting it’s authority to expand USF unilaterally to include broadband Internet access service (BIAS) and related providers or, at minimum, recommend Congress amend the Act and expand the scope of services subject to USF to include additional services.

If you have questions about or would like to file comments related to the impact of potential changes to the USF contribution scheme, the FCC’s universal goals for broadband, or the impact on the Act on your business, contact Jonathan S. Marashlian at jsm@commlawgroup.com.

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