We’ll Still Be Talking USF in 5 Years

01.23.2013

Authors of a new book recommending pathways for communications policy over the next five years see a continuing debate about how best to structure the troubled universal service program, according to a discussion sponsored by the Free State Foundation, which published the book. “If this were a new program, no one would go for it,” said Daniel Lyons, assistant professor at Boston College. The cost and complexity are daunting.

Lyons advocates making the universal service program a line item in the federal budget, but acknowledges it likely would be difficult to gain political support to pay the program even with reforms. Lyons’ chapter in the book, “Communications Law and Policy in the Digital Age,” calls for targeted subsidies to go directly to consumers through vouchers, similar to the food stamp program, which could be spent on a broadband service of choice.

Lyons also recommended phasing out the high-cost fund, an idea that prompted a question from Verizon Executive Vice President Tom Tauke. “Is it feasible to support backhaul without high cost support?” Tauke asked, adding that wireless networks rely upon wireline networks for the vast majority of traffic.  (See video for explanation of linkage between wireline and wireless networks.)

Tauke also observed that it is difficult for the Federal Communications Commission to implement an obsolete statute, which is the task the agency faces. Several of the authors call for phasing out the public utility-like regulatory approaches to communications and high-tech industries due to overwhelming evidence of competition and innovation in the marketplace.

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