A bipartisan group of 102 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter yesterday to the FCC asking the Commission to divert more money to the Universal Service high-cost fund. The letter, organized by Representative Kevin Cramer (R-ND), refers to the FCC’s 2016 universal service reform order that created a standalone mechanism for rural telcos providing broadband service. Before that order, telcos received no universal service support for customers that ordered broadband service only. Consumers had to subscribe to legacy landline phone service to receive DSL or other broadband services from the LEC.
Despite the relief the order gave rural providers, the congressmen claimed that broadband service remains either unavailable or unaffordable in many parts of rural America. The reason being that the universal service fund lacks the budget to meet the requests for support both under the legacy rate-of-return and the new cost-model mechanisms the 2016 order created.
“We are concerned that the lack of sufficient resources in the reformed programs [some of which remain capped at the same level as six years ago] may be undermining the desired effect of the reforms and falling short of the statutory mandate that reasonably comparable services at reasonably comparable rates be available to rural and urban Americans alike,” the letter states. “We therefore encourage you to ensure sufficient resources are available … to give rural Americans the opportunity to obtain affordable broadband and to advance broadband deployment in high-cost rural areas.”
The house letter is similar in substance and policy position to a letter that a 56-member majority of the U.S. Senate sent the FCC last month.