Wireless companies: Change funding of FCC subsidy program

The wireless industry wants Congress to change the way that it funds the Federal Communications Commission’s program to bring phone and Internet service to everyone in the U.S.

Currently, the FCC’s $8 billion Universal Service Fund (USF) — which brings phone and Internet access to poor, rural and other areas — is funded by companies, which pass the fee along to subscribers on their phone bills.

But CTIA-The Wireless Association — which represents major wireless carriers such as AT&T and Verizon as well as device manufacturers and other companies — wants a change. They say that the current structure has many of their companies footing the bill for unrelated operations, such as traditional wired phone service and a program to bring high-speed Internet to schools and libraries.

“As the size and scope of programs supported by USF continue to increase, wireless service customers will be required to shoulder ever-expanding levels of surcharges to fund a wide array of programs that have important, but indirect, public benefits,” the group wrote in a filing to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

“Consequently, Congress should reassess how these programs are funded,” it added. 

“It may be more appropriate to support those programs of general benefit to the public out of general revenue funds, where support levels can be determined annually though the federal budget process.”

In addition, the trade group told the House committee that money should be given out in a more “technologically neutral manner” to support more wireless services instead of traditional wired lines.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is currently accepting public comments on the FCC program as part of its continuing plans for updating the 1996 Telecommunications Act, a process that is expected to take multiple years.