WISPA Urges FCC to Update USF to Better Accommodate Broadband-only Providers

Washington, DC, February 17, 2022 – WISPA filed comments today with the FCC urging the agency to, among other things, update its Universal Service Fund (USF) programs to better accommodate small broadband-only providers who deliver needed internet access to millions of Americans in high-cost areas and in the digital divide.
More specifically, today’s filing makes a number of core recommendations, including the following:  
  • Congress should convert the FCC’s USF programs from Title II telecommunications programs to broadband support programs; and eliminate the hurdle that recipients of high-cost support must first be designated as eligible telecommunications carriers.
  • Federal and state broadband funding programs should be carefully crafted and implemented to avoid duplicating government support to providers in the same area. 
  • USF programs should focus on functionality, consumer demand, deployment costs and speed of deployment to encourage efficient distribution of ratepayer and taxpayer contributions.
  • The E-rate program should fund support of off-campus use of broadband services for library patrons/students who would lack access; and allow schools/libraries to use funds for broadband access for K-12 students within the footprint of a school or school district, with such support available for all technologies, including fixed wireless.
  • The FCC should permit high-cost support recipients that are not the only Lifeline provider in their census block to fulfill their obligations by either offering Lifeline discounts or participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program. 
  • And, if the Commission requires entities that do not provide voice services to contribute to USF, it should raise the de minimis contribution threshold to prevent unfair burdens on small providers.
“As far back as 1934, Congress recognized the central role the FCC plays in making ‘available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, a rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication service,’” said Louis Peraertz, VP of Policy for WISPA.  “In 1996, Congress created the Universal Service Fund, and since then it and the FCC have continually worked to evolve the concept, and its underlying funding, to boost communications infrastructure deployment and uptake across America.”
Added Peraertz, “These changes, combined with advances in broadband technology, have enabled thousands of small, community-based providers – our WISPA members – to bring high-speed broadband to the hardest to reach and serve areas of the country.  What WISPA recommends here today would create important updates to our nation’s USF policy, changes which we believe will foster growth in a way that invites more players and innovation to the table so that all Americans, no matter where they live, can receive evolutionary internet access to fully participate in our economy and society.”
WISPA’s 1000 members are composed of fixed Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) and the evolving industry that supports fixed broadband connectivity, including equipment suppliers, support services, and other components needed to run a successful business. Our members provide evolutionary broadband access to millions of residential and business customers in rural, urban and Tribal areas across America.
Mike Wendy