CenturyLink Urges Congress To Update Communications Act, Reform Universal Service Fund

By David Bartlett, Vice President of Federal Government Affairs

CenturyLink submitted comments today commending the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee for its efforts to revisit and revise the Communications Act in light of the significant technological and marketplace changes that have occurred since the law was last updated in 1996. Given these rapid and fundamental market changes, the current law no longer effectively promotes universal access to critical communications services.

We believe that universal service should continue to be a core objective of this country’s communications policy and that the primary goal of the Universal Service Fund (USF) should be to ensure the availability of sufficient communications, including voice and broadband Internet services, throughout this country.

To that end, CenturyLink supports FCC action to reform its existing high-cost support programs through the development of phase II of the Connect America Fund (CAF). We joined other telecommunications providers in recommending several specific changes to the program that will maximize its effectiveness. Notably, more than 100 federal, state and local legislators and executive officials have written to the FCC in support of giving providers the flexibility they need to deploy high-speed broadband connections to more unserved communities.

Making certain that USF can meet this goal while minimizing the burden on consumers and businesses is vital to achieving ubiquitous broadband availability across the country. However, the USF contribution rules have simply not kept pace with the vast technological changes. CenturyLink believes the USF contribution rules need to be revamped to broaden the contribution base, simplify the contribution methodology and ensure that similar services are subject to the same contribution obligations, regardless of provider.

Consumers in urban areas can usually choose from a variety of service providers because of lower network costs due to the larger number of residents. Consumers in more sparsely populated areas do not enjoy the same choices thanks to the higher costs to serve rural locations, but still need comparable services at comparable prices, which are only available with support from the USF high-cost program. However, USF support should not be used to artificially create competition in high-cost rural areas where it wouldn’t otherwise exist.

CenturyLink recognizes that federal support alone is unlikely to accomplish the national goal of universal service. State partnerships and funding are critical to meeting universal access to essential communication services in any given state.

In addition, USF support is supposed to be specific, predictable and sufficient. As the USF program is updated, mechanisms are needed to allow providers to make the most effective use of USF support.  By knowing the amount and terms of the support available for locations as well as the service obligations associated with that support, providers can make the best business decisions about accepting and using that support to help America achieve its goal of universal access to crucial communications services for everyone.

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