NTCA Voices Concerns Over FCC Proposal to Impose an Additional Overall Cap on the Universal Service Fund Budget

For Immediate Release
Contact:  Carolyn Just, 703-351-2015, cjust@ntca.org 

Arlington, Va., (June 3, 2019) – NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association issued the following statement from Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield regarding the recent FCC proposal to establish a cap on the overall Universal Service Fund (USF) budget in addition to discrete budget caps already in place for individual USF programs. 

“NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association and its members have long shared the FCC’s interest in balancing the need for fiscal responsibility in the collection and use of universal service funds with the need for sufficient and predictable support to achieve statutory mandates for universal service. This commitment can be seen dating back many years, when even as NTCA sought increases in high-cost support to address persistent shortfalls in funding that were deterring network investments and denying consumers access to affordable services, we also suggested mechanisms to ensure that the high-cost program would operate within a defined budget. Since that time, the commission has taken steps both to address concerns about the sufficiency of the high-cost program and to implement additional budget controls within that program.

“This being said, NTCA believes the FCC’s proposal to impose an additional cap atop all of the collective universal service programs is unnecessary and contrary to the statutory design of the programs. When Congress called for creation of these programs in 1996, it directed that each of these mechanisms should have sufficient funding. The proper way to fulfill this mandate is not to impose an overall cap on the programs that bears no relation to their respective missions at any given point in time, but rather to be diligent in evaluating each universal service programs’ respective needs and operations and to adopt an individual budget for each program that will be sized responsibly to provide sufficient funding for that program’s specific statutory mission. Furthermore, to the extent that there is concern about how universal service is paid for, it is time for a meaningful conversation about how those benefiting from increased capability of communications networks must contribute to the availability and sustainability of those networks – this is real fiscal responsibility, and essential as a matter of equity.

“We have appreciated the FCC’s bipartisan commitment to universal service and its significant efforts in recent years to overcome the digital divide. We look forward to continuing to work with the FCC toward fulfillment of universal service objectives in a fiscally responsible way. Placing an overall cap on the universal service fund, however, poses serious risk of creating future divides among the various universal service programs and should therefore be rejected—instead, we simply believe the FCC should take the steps necessary to evaluate and establish specific, sufficient, and predictable budgets for each program individually as the law contemplates.”