Federal Communications Commission

Author Archive

USF Reform: We’re All In This Together

August 10th, 2010 by Carol Mattey - Deputy Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau

We are busy at the FCC developing proposals to reform key aspects of the universal service fund.  I’ve been fortunate in recent weeks to be able to travel outside of D.C. with several FCC colleagues to listen and learn from a broad cross section of stakeholders that share a common goal of promoting innovation and investment in broadband across America.  I attended the NARUC Summer Meetings in Sacramento, where I participated in several panels, including a discussion of the National Broadband Plan and its USF recommendations and a discussion of the regulatory framework for broadband services. Our colleagues at state public utility commissions have a keen interest in what’s going on in Washington, DC and how the FCC’s actions might impact citizens in their states.  

We also spoke with rural telephone companies at the OPASTCO summer meeting.  Several of the companies we talked to have deployed all fiber networks throughout their service areas offering, while others are in the process of building out their networks.  The companies we spoke with typically offer three to five tiers of service, with overall take rates ranging from 20% to 70% and many customers purchasing the lower priced, lower speed packages offering 1.5 Mbps to 3 Mbps downstream. 

The Washington Department of Information Services hosted a jam packed day of meetings with Tribal government leaders and local officials (including representatives from school districts, the City of Seattle, the Washington State Library, the Department of Social and Health Services, the Department of Commerce, Noanet, Public Utility Districts, and many others), who are working hard to maximize the availability and use of broadband in their communities to advance health care, education, and economic development. State and local officials were eager to discuss the challenges of extending broadband to particular isolated communities in the Washington State. 

We learned about a not-for-profit health center that has raised matching funding to establish a critical access health care facility on the San Juan Islands that would enable health care professionals to treat patients through live imaging delivered via broadband, rather than transporting people to the mainland via helicopter or ferry.   The Colville Tribe talked about how they are hoping to receive stimulus funding to extend broadband on their reservation so that their people can find new ways to learn a living in the wake of high unemployment after the closure of timber mills that sustained the community for so many years.  Noanet – which has received $85 million in round one of stimulus funding and has another $55 million in projects in due diligence – highlighted for us on a map where they will be extending middle mile facilities in the state.  We heard about how broadband enables areas of the state that historically have survived on tourism to develop a cottage industry of software developers and others who remotely provide digital efforts for the movie industry.  We also spoke with the Gates Foundation about their ongoing commitment to improving public access to broadband in libraries across the country.

We recognize the magnitude of the task and know that it’s too great for the FCC to accomplish on its own.  I’m convinced that we have to work closely with our state, local and Tribal government partners, as well as the private sector and non-profits, in discussing how to reform USF to advance broadband for local communities. They know what’s on the ground.  We’re all in this together.

Connecting Rural Americans to Broadband

May 7th, 2010 by Carol Mattey - Deputy Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau

As I travel throughout the country to talk about the National Broadband Plan, I am proud to highlight the Plan’s recommendations to connect consumers in rural America to broadband.  The Plan’s proposals for connecting unserved parts of rural America are at once concrete and specific as well as bold and visionary. I talked about them at length in recent speeches, but I’m going to hit some of the key points in this blog.

The Plan made clear that broadband communications is critical to jobs, health, education, news, information and more in the 21st Century.  In the last century, the federal Universal Service Fund was key to connecting sparsely populated rural communities to the communications technology of that century: telephone service.  Now, we must reconfigure the fund to support broadband.  Doing nothing, and leaving many communities without access to broadband, is not an option.

The Plan sets forth a vision to accomplish that goal.  In particular, the Plan outlines ways to transform the primary fund for supporting voice service in rural America – the High Cost Fund – into a “Connect America Fund” that explicitly and efficiently supports broadband networks capable of providing high-quality voice services.  The Plan proposes to target support more effectively to bring broadband to consumers in unserved areas and sustain service in areas that need ongoing universal service subsidies.

Implementing the Plan calls for tough choices and careful balancing of costs and benefits.  It is critical to the preservation and continued success of universal service that we find the right balance between funding the program adequately and not unduly burdening consumers

Consumers now pay the highest USF fees ever on their landline, cell phone and cable voice bills to support the fund, and the growth in fees must stop. To minimize the burden on consumers, the Commission is looking at ways to limit growth in the fund.  One way to contain growth is to make sure that consumers who fund the program get the most “bang for the buck” with support under the new Connect America Fund provided in a way that encourages efficiency. 

The growth of broadband and competition has fundamentally changed the business model for many communications companies.  The majority of states have moved from rate-of-return regulation, which compensates carriers for their actual costs regardless of whether there is a cheaper way to serve the customer, to incentive regulation, which encourages efficiency and enables providers to reap the rewards of an efficient network.  Isn’t it time at the federal level to think about how we need to adapt how we regulate those smaller companies? 

The Plan also analyzed consumer usage of broadband speeds to set an initial target of 4 Mbps of actual download speed and 1 Mbps of actual upload speed.  The 4 Mbps is comparable to the median speed received by residential consumers today, and what many consumers are likely to use in the near term, given past growth rates. To ensure that consumers in rural areas receive broadband speeds comparable to urban areas, the Plan also recommends reevaluating this 4 Mbps funding target every four years and adjusting it as appropriate to reflect changing consumer use and demand.  Doing so will ensure that there is no digital divide in this country.

There’s plenty of work ahead to flesh out the details.  The Plan presents an opportunity not only for rural consumers, but also for companies operating in a rural America to chart a new course for the future.  To complete the task, we need more information from the industry and look forward to a collaborative process with providers.  Our goal is to bring broadband to all rural Americans without breaking the bank.  Help us figure out the best way to get there.

Read the prepared text of Carrol's speeches:

Reforming Universal Service for Broadband?

November 19th, 2009 by Carol Mattey - Deputy Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau

Virtually everyone agrees that the current universal service program is broken.  But how to fix it – that’s the $64 million question.  Oh, make that the $7 billion question and growing.  At the same time, universal service has the potential to help provide affordable broadband everywhere.  But if we are going to make that happen, we can’t explode the size of the fund in the process.   It’s not telephone companies that pay for universal service.  It's you and me and everyone else in America that pays.   We have to decide as a nation what exactly we are trying to achieve with the universal service fund and how we can best direct those resources to benefit consumers.

As part of our data-driven process to develop the National Broadband Plan, we are seeking additional comment in a Public Notice released last week relating to various aspects of universal service and intercarrier compensation We aren’t looking for more general advocacy about the need to reform universal service or intercarrier compensation; we want solid factual analyses and data to help shape the path forward.  For instance, we want to know how changes in the universal service fund contribution methodology will impact consumers, how high-cost funding can be targeted to unserved areas, and what specific steps the Commission could take to make broadband more affordable for low income consumers.  Please file comments using either ECFS Express or our standard submission page if you need to attach a file.   You should note in your comments that you are responding to Public Notice #19.  You can also post comments on Blogband, and they will be included in the record for the National Broadband Plan.

Capture The Phone Numbers Using Your Camera Phone

If you have a camera and a 2D matrix code reader on your mobile phone, you can capture the FCC Phone numbers right to your phone by following these three easy steps:
Step 1: Take a photograph of one of the codes below using the camera on your mobile phone.
Step 2: Use your phone's Datamatrix or QR Code reader to decode the information on the photograph. Please note, these code readers are device specific and are available to download on the internet.
Step 3: Store the decoded address information to your phone's address book and use it with your Maps or GPS application.

Datamatrix and QR FCC Phones