Six leading broadband providers submitted their plan for rural area broadband deployment to the Federal Communications Commission today. The proposal is intended to address the goals of the National Broadband Plan and to deliver broadband access to virtually all Americans within 5 years.
The basic tenets of the plan are to focus the federal Universal Service Fund on building and sustaining broadband networks without increasing the size of the fund, and to reform the Intercarrier Compensation (ICC) system that governs how communications companies bill one another for handling traffic, fees the allied companies would like to gradually phase down.
The companies involved in what they’ve named America’s Broadband Connectivity Plan are AT&T, CenturyLink, FairPoint, Frontier, Verizon and Windstream. They also received the official support of three organizations that represent the interests of small carriers, namely the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, the Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies and Western Telecommunications Alliance.
“After years of debating and discussing how to update the universal service and intercarrier compensation programs for the broadband era, a workable framework has emerged,” said Hank Hultquist, vice president, AT&T Federal Regulatory. “To truly bring broadband services to all Americans, the rules of the road for the black rotary phone desperately needed to be updated for today’s competitive, high-speed communications networks. We look forward to continuing to work with policymakers, Congress and others to ensure we accomplish this important goal this year.”
Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) was among those welcoming the industry plan. In a statement issued Friday, he said, “Universal service is a cherished principle. In years past, it has meant that this nation connects every community with basic phone service. But in the years ahead, it must mean that we connect our communities with advanced broadband and wireless service, too.
There are increasing calls from the legislature to reform the $8 billion Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes phone service for low-income and rural residents, and to devise a system better suited to modern needs. Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee released FCC data Thursday on the fund’s high-cost and low-income programs showing the program often subsidizes multiple carriers to offer service to the same area.
Photo by flickr user Silver Tusk, used under Creative Commons license