In May, Senators Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and John Thune (R-SD) created the Universal Service Fund (USF) Working Group – a bipartisan forum for the six working group members to discuss USF reforms, policy, and education. Luján and Thune are joined by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Jerry Moran (R-KS).  

To better understand how the USF could be reformed to meet today’s connectivity needs better, the working group hosted a hearing and then requested comments from the public on the topic.

NDIA sees reshaping USF as a key potential strategy for achieving digital equity. We submitted comments to the USF Working Group on August 25 – you can read our full comments here.

We highlight five key recommendations for Congress as they consider the future of USF:

What Is USF?

The Universal Service Fund (USF), overseen by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), enhances telecom access in rural/low-income areas. It collects fees from providers, supporting vital programs through the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), while the FCC ensures rule compliance.

1. A National Digital Equity Plan should measure the effectiveness of USF.

Congress should mandate the creation of a National Digital Equity Plan. The USF programs could then be measured against the plan’s goals to determine its effectiveness. This plan should be influenced by and aligned with the digital equity plans the states, territories, and the District of Columbia are currently creating – and the plans Tribal entities will eventually create – through the Digital Equity Act.

2. The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and Lifeline should be funded through USF.

ACP should aligned with the Lifeline program. Modern communication requires access to voice, text, and data simultaneously.

3. Congress should ensure bridge funding for ACP.

To allow time for the FCC to modernize USF to include ACP, Congress must allocate bridge funding to sustain ACP through 2024, at a minimum.

4. USF should fund the Digital Equity Foundation.

Sustained funding for the Digital Equity Foundation would ensure that local, trusted organizations have the necessary resources to continue to assist their community members with ACP sign-ups and reach more people in need of services.

5. USF contributions should stem from multiple sources.

Contribution to USF should come from multiple sources to reduce the fee amount assessed to any one service. Spreading around who pays may be politically more difficult but would reduce the percentage of the contributions.