Providing Internet Access While Curbing The Cost On Taxpayers

Yesterday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet held the first of a series of hearings focusing on reform of the Universal Service Fund. The Fund ensures, among other things, that residents of rural areas have access to affordable communications services. Affordable communications services not only benefit their individual users, but also, at a time when electronic commerce is central to national economic growth, they are essential for our national economic success. While the importance of affordable rural connectivity has increased, new technologies and new business plans are combining to diminish the long distance revenues that have been relied upon for universal service funding, and reform is now needed. Representative Lee Terry and I have recently introduced the Universal Service Reform Act of 2006, legislation which would control the spiraling growth of the Universal Service Fund while ensuring that universal service support is available to the rural carriers which rely on it to provide service. Our measure would expand who pays into the fund, cap the growth of the fund, and modernize it by allowing its use for the deployment of high speed broadband service. Our bill would expand the existing Universal Service Fund revenue base by requiring VOIP providers and all who offer a connection to the Internet to contribute to the fund, as well as by assessing contributions on intrastate revenues in addition to interstate and international revenues. It would also impose strict limitations on fund growth, assuring that the only growth is in accordance with an inflationary growth factor. I hope that Members will consider our bill as the Congress looks for practical answers to the universal service challenges we face.