A bipartisan group of legislators introduced the Universal Broadband Act to improve access to broadband services by requiring companies to contribute to a fund, currently used only by telephone companies.
The bill will expand the Universal Service Fund (USF) contribution base to include broadband services, “rather than the current outdated model that draws support solely from telephone services,” the cosponsors said in a press release. The bill, introduced May 5, is sponsored by Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Don Young, R-Ark., T.J. Cox, D-Calif., Hal Rogers, R-Ky., Angie Craig, D-Minn., Frank Lucas, R-Okla., Luis Correa, D-Calif., Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J., Ed Case, D-Hawaii, and Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas.
The goal of the legislation is to expand what companies are contributing to the fund, because, the legislators explain, “the costs of building out service to areas without adequate broadband continues to rise, while the current base that contributes to the USF is declining.” This shift has “resulted in an increasingly growing contribution factor, overburdening those who are required to contribute.”
The bill cosponsors tied the importance of the legislation to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has heightened the need for reliable broadband access due to increased teleworking, telelearning, and telemedicine.
“Reliable broadband is a utility, every bit as necessary as electricity,” said Rep. Peterson. “From distance learning to telehealth and the transitions of working from home during a public health crisis, broadband is more important than ever. It’s unacceptable that rural communities have limited, unreliable, or worse yet no broadband access. In response to these inequities I have introduced the Universal Broadband Act that secures adequate funding to support the construction of broadband infrastructure in rural and underserved areas without having to increase the national debt.”
Specifically, the bill would:
- “Codify that broadband is within the definition of Universal Service;
- Require the FCC to set the contribution rate as needed to meet Universal Service goals and serve all Americans;
- Require consultation between USDA’s Rural Utility Service (RUS), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and the FCC;
- Create reporting requirements to ensure the FCC is meeting their build out goals; and
- Prioritize unserved areas, and further ensure tribal areas are served.”