In another article in the National Journal, AT&T has weighed in on the proposal to tap into the Universal Service Fund (USF). AT&T’s VP of Federal Regulatory Affairs, Hank Hultquist, has said “There are definitely legal problems with that which are not well understood.”
While lawmakers face tough choices in the budget and deficit battle, jeopardizing the communications service of many rural customers should not be the preferred choice. Communications access is a vital part of economic and civic participation, and Americans in rural areas are disadvantaged with reduced access to communication services.
The USF provides many opportunities for individuals and rural communities to connect with modern communications technology. The USF has four programs which are:
- High Cost – This support ensures that consumers in all regions of the nation have access to and pay rates for telecommunications services that are reasonably comparable to those in urban areas.
- Low Income – This support, commonly known as Lifeline and Link Up, provides discounts that make basic, local telephone service affordable for more than 7 million low-income consumers.
- Rural Health Care – This support provides reduced rates to rural health care providers for telecommunications and Internet services so they pay no more than their urban counterparts for the same or similar telecommunications services.
- Schools and Libraries – This support, commonly referred to as E-rate support, provides affordable telecommunications and Internet access services to connect schools and libraries to the Internet. This support goes to service providers that provide discounts on eligible services to eligible schools, school districts, libraries, and consortia of these entities.
The Schools and Libraries program has helped to enhance Internet access to underserved groups, which is essential to promoting better digital literacy for young Americans. The United States is at a critical stage in achieving universal access to broadband services, and reducing the USF by $1 billion will not contribute to bringing rural and low income populations access to communications technology. Lawmakers should not jeopardize the future of universal coverage and the potential it brings at the expense of deficit reduction.