Vol. 18, No. 8
February 22, 2022
USForward: 332 Groups Send Letter to FCC
as Pressure Builds to Save Universal Service Fund
The pressure is building on the FCC to save the Universal Service Fund (USF), which provides critical assistance for rural and low-income families seeking affordable internet connectivity, as well as schools, libraries, and rural healthcare providers.

Last week 332 entities sent a letter to the FCC calling for rapid action to help stabilize the funding mechanism that supports the USF program from skyrocketing costs, poised to reach a staggering 40%. The 332 organizations signing the “Call to Action” letter represent a broad and diverse group of stakeholders, including public interest groups, communications companies, anchor institutions and consumers.

The “Call to Action” letter urges the FCC to expand the services that pay into the USF to include broadband internet access services (BIAS) revenues, pointing out that the FCC has the power to take this action now. As explained in the USForward Report, including BIAS revenues in the contribution base is smart and equitable public policy that the FCC can implement quickly.

“Our recommendation would reduce regulatory uncertainty, would better reflect evolving uses of services, would be straightforward to administer, and would be more equitable and nondiscriminatory for residential and business consumers than the current system. Moreover, the FCC could make this change under its existing authority without requiring new legislation,” the letter states.

Stating that “the perfect should not be the enemy of the better,” the Call to Action letter makes it clear how dire the situation is for families who depend on affordable connectivity and encourages the FCC to take those reasonable and productive steps it can right now to address these concerns. “Unfortunately, this universal service system is in danger of collapse because the mechanism that funds it has not been updated since it was adopted nearly 25 years ago. As a result, the USF fee has spiraled from about 7% in 2001 to over 30% in 2021 and could exceed 40% in the coming years. The existing system is also inequitable and discriminatory because some consumers pay a disproportionate amount compared to others, even when using similar services,” the letter reads.
FCC, NTIA Establish Spectrum Coordination Initiative
On February 15, the FCC and NTIA announced a new initiative to improve U.S. government coordination on spectrum management. The Spectrum Coordination Initiative will involve actions by both agencies to strengthen the processes for decision making and information sharing and to work cooperatively to resolve spectrum policy issues.

The FCC and NTIA jointly manage the nation’s radio spectrum resources, and the agencies have a long history of working together to ensure that spectrum policy decisions foster economic growth, ensure our national and homeland security, maintain U.S. global leadership and advance other vital U.S. needs.

Specifically, they have committed to the following initial actions:
  • Reinstate High Level Meetings. For the first time, the Chair of the FCC and the Assistant Secretary will hold formal, regular meetings, beginning monthly, to conduct joint spectrum planning. 
  • Reaffirm Roles and Responsibilities. Building on NTIA’s statutory role as manager of the federal government’s use of spectrum, the FCC and NTIA will update the nearly twenty-year-old Memorandum of Understanding between the agencies to address gaps in government coordination. 
  • Renew Efforts to Develop a National Spectrum Strategy. The FCC and NTIA will collaborate to help inform the development of a national spectrum strategy, increase transparency around spectrum use and needs, and establish long-term spectrum planning and coordination.  
  • Recommit to Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking. The FCC and NTIA will work cooperatively to develop processes for spectrum engineering compatibility analysis. These will include a compilation of principles, guidelines, accepted technical standards, interference protection criteria, propagation models, and other characteristics.  
  • Revamp Technical Collaboration. The FCC and NTIA will foster proactive technical exchange and engagement with industry and other federal agencies by participating in cross-agency advisory groups. 
NTIA to Host Pre-NOFO Technical Assistance Webinars
NTIA will host a pre-Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) technical assistance webinar series starting next month through May in connection with the five new broadband grant programs authorized and funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA): The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program; the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program; and the Digital Equity Act Programs, which include the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program, State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program, and Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program.

These pre-NOFO technical assistance webinars are designed to help prospective applicants understand NTIA’s IIJA broadband grant programs and to assist applicants to prepare high quality grant applications.

NTIA Webinar Schedule
  • Webinar #1: Wednesday, March 9, 2022, from 2:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m. ET
  • Webinar #2: Wednesday, March 23, 2022, from 2:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m. ET
  • Webinar #3: Wednesday, April 6, 2022, from 2:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m. ET
  • Webinar #4: Wednesday, April 27, 2022, from 2:30 4:00 p.m. ET
  • Webinar #5: Wednesday, May 11, 2022, from 2:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m. ET.

These webinars will be hosted via NTIA’s virtual platform and conducted as live webinars. NTIA will post the registration information on its BroadbandUSA website as soon as the virtual platform is finalized.
NARUC Approves Federal-State Collaboration Resolution
NARUC’s board of directors approved a resolution at its winter policy summit last week, ensuring federal and state entities collaborate, share data and track progress on closing the digital divide utilizing various federal programs, including the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
USDA Extends Application Deadline for Reconnect Program
U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Under Secretary Xochitl Torres Small announced an extension of the application deadline for the ReConnect Program from February 22, 2022, to March 9, 2022. Up to $1.15 billion in loans and grants from the program will be made available to expand the availability of broadband in rural areas.

To be eligible for funding, an applicant must serve an area without broadband service at speeds of 100/20 Mbps and commit to building facilities capable of providing broadband service at speeds of 100 Mbps to every location in its proposed service area.

The USDA said in the coming months it plans to begin making available an additional $2 billion in rural broadband funding allocated to USDA by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.