With the FCC about to launch an important rulemaking to update the universal service program for broadband, CWA outlined its priorities in a recent meeting with Chairman Genachowski's legal advisor Zac Katz.
CWA has long advocated reform of the universal service program — originally designed for a monopoly telephone world — to foster affordable, high-speed broadband to everyone. The National Broadband Plan (NBP) endorsed these goals. Now, a year after release of the NBP, the FCC begins the reform process with an initial focus on the $4.2 billion High-Cost Fund of rural subsidies. The FCC's proposal will center on creating a Connect America Fund (CAF) to support broadband deployment in unserved areas.
CWA urged the Commission to follow the following principles for the Connect America Fund to support universal, affordable high-speed Internet to everyone and good union jobs in the industry:
- Subsidize only one broadband provider in areas where there is no private sector business case.
- Target support at a granular level based on need, not carrier characteristics.
- Support networks that can upgrade to higher capacity. Typically, these will be wireline networks.
- Require carrier-of-last resort obligations and service quality reporting.
- Support capital and operating expenses.
- Require USF recipients to upgrade to 1 gigabyte capacity to schools, libraries, and rural health centers.
- Ensure a smooth transition that does not result in rate shock to rural customers.
In addition, CWA urged the Commission to move forward in these areas:
- Ensure USF supports investment, not exorbitant shareholder dividends and large executive compensation packages.
- Broaden the contribution base. The current system, which is based on a percentage of telecommunications long-distance revenues, is outdated and unstable. All communications carriers, including broadband providers, should contribute equitably to the fund.
- Require all USF recipients to provide broadband service.
- Reform the low-income Lifeline and Link-Up system to support broadband adoption.
- Support and strengthen the E-rate program of support to schools, libraries, and rural health center.
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