The Solution to Affordable Connectivity is Staring Us in the Face

Over the weekend, the Affordable Connectivity Program, which helps over 23 million low-income households access high-speed internet at home, officially ran out of funding. This lapse occurs despite strong support from the White House and lawmakers of both parties, as well as the backing of four out of five Americans. With the avenues for short-term funding all but closed, the focus must now shift to delivering a long-term fix.

Fortunately, the solution is staring us in the face. Congress must now instruct the FCC to modernize and right-size the Universal Service Fund to also include a new, financially responsible, and self-sustaining version of the ACP, all while dramatically reducing the fees charged to consumers to fund this important effort.

This work cannot wait. The pandemic brought into sharp relief the reality that high-speed broadband connections are essential to a better life – from healthcare and education to jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Congress created the Universal Service Fund in 1996 to link rural communities to voice telephone service at affordable rates. Because networks of that era carried almost exclusively phone calls, this national commitment was funded solely by voice services. Today, less than 28% of Americans even have a “home phone”.

Simply put; to secure the future of universal, affordable connectivity, Big Tech must take its seat at the USF table. For too long, these trillion-dollar behemoths have worked hard to avoid any requirement to contribute to universal service and affordable connectivity – despite the fact they are among the most powerful companies on the planet precisely because so many of us are connected.

Widening the pool of services contributing to universal service could take many forms. In each of them, as my kids would say, the math is mathing. Crunching the numbers reveals a variety of paths forward. As one example, according to the FCC, simply adding digital advertising revenues into the funding equation would summarily reduce the 32.8% universal service fee charged to phone customers – taking it down to just 3.3%.

Opponents have long dismissed this proposal as a “tax on the net” and claim USF reform would raise consumer bills. But let’s speak plainly, USF is not a tax. In fact, every American with a cellphone or landline will see the USF fee on their bill drop by roughly 90 percent.

We can debate the mechanics of what companies and services contribute to this shared priority. But our nation cannot afford to keep debating ad nauseam whether our country should press forward. We know now that universal broadband was far more than a pandemic priority. It is a sustained modern necessity that goes to the heart of the American Dream—the ability to access the tools necessary to make a better life for yourself and your family.

Two short years ago, some 23 million American households saw their government do something real and meaningful to help improve their lives – only to take it away. We owe them not words of regret or vague promises, but urgent collective action. Congress can ensure our nation’s commitment to universal broadband and affordability endures. This is the work ahead.


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