WHEREAS, In 1997, pursuant to Section 254 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (the “Act”), the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) adopted rules that defined the services which are to be financially supported by federal universal service support mechanisms as those that are commonly referred to as voice communications services and has not revised this definition since that date; and

WHEREAS, Pursuant to section 254(b) of the Act, the FCC is directed to base policies for the preservation and advancement of universal service, inter alia, on the principle that access to advanced telecommunications and information services should be available at just, reasonable, reasonably comparable, and affordable rates in all regions of the Nation; and

WHEREAS, Pursuant to section 254(c) of the Act, universal service is an evolving level of telecommunications services and the definition of supported services shall take into account “the extent to which such telecommunications services –

(A) are essential to education, public health, or public safety;

(B) have, through the operation of market choices by customers, been subscribed to by a substantial majority of residential customers;

(C) are being deployed in public telecommunications networks by telecommunications carriers; and

(D) are consistent with the public interest, convenience and necessity;” and

WHEREAS, the FCC has previously defined broadband Internet access service as an “information service,” not a “telecommunications service”

[1]; and

WHEREAS, The Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service in its Recommended Decision (FCC 07J-4), released on November 20, 2007, concluded that broadband Internet access service satisfies the criteria in section 254(c) of the Act and recommended to the FCC that it “revise the current definition of supported services to include broadband Internet service,” but did not address the information service classification issue; and

WHEREAS, Since 1985, the FCC, pursuant to its general authority under sections 1, 4(i), 201, and 205 of the Act, and in cooperation with the State commissions and local exchange carriers, has administered the Lifeline program which was designed to increase the affordability and subscribership of local telephone service to low-income consumers by providing discounts on the rates for local telephone service; and

WHEREAS, In 1987, the FCC approved the implementation of the Link Up America program which was designed to cover the initial connection charges for local telephone service for low-income consumers; and

WHEREAS, The Universal Service Monitoring Report, prepared by the Federal and State Staff for the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service, released in December 2008, reported that from 1985 through March 2007 the subscribership for local telephone service among low-income consumers has increased from a national rate of 80 percent to 88.4 percent; and

WHEREAS, The costs to administer and financially support the federal Lifeline and Link-Up programs are covered by FCC-mandated Universal Service Fund assessments on all telecommunications service providers, including wireline local and long distance telecommunications companies, wireless telecommunications companies, paging service companies and interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service providers, based on interstate and international revenues; and

WHEREAS, Broadband Internet service providers do not currently contribute to support the federal Lifeline and Link-Up programs; and

WHEREAS, The October 2008 study, Consumer Insights to America’s Broadband Challenge, by Connected Nation, Inc. reported that of all residential consumers surveyed 74% owned a computer and 50% subscribed to broadband service, while 44% of low-income consumers owned a computer and 23% subscribed to broadband service; and

WHEREAS, The Connected Nation study reported that generally among consumers without broadband service, 44% said they didn’t need broadband, 32% said they did not own a computer, and 23% said broadband service was too expensive; and

WHEREAS, On November 5, 2008, the FCC released an Order on Remand and Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FCC 08-262), in which it sought comments on a proposal to establish a Broadband Lifeline/Link Up Pilot Program (“Pilot Program”) “to examine how the Lifeline and Link Up universal service support mechanism can be used to enhance how the Lifeline and Link Up universal service support mechanism can be used to enhance access to broadband Internet access services for low-income Americans;” and

WHEREAS, The proposal planned to “make available $300 million each year for the next three years to enable Eligible Telecommunications Carriers (ETCs) to support broadband Internet access service and the necessary access devices . . . if the ETC provides Lifeline service to an eligible household;” and

WHEREAS, The FCC concurred with the Joint Board’s recommendation to add broadband Internet access service to the list of universal service supported services, but “for the limited purpose of the Pilot Program,” while not addressing the information service issue; and

WHEREAS, key provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act direct that federal stimulus dollars be used to bring broadband to unserved and underserved areas, as well as to stimulate consumer demand for broadband service; now, therefore be it

RESOLVED, That the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (“NASUCA”) recognizes the critical role that the FCC and State Lifeline and Link-Up programs have played in expanding subscribership of local telephone service to low-income consumers; and be it further

RESOLVED, That NASUCA believes that the availability and affordability of broadband Internet access services[2] to low-income consumers is critical to the provision of public education, public health, public safety and other services by the States; and be it further

RESOLVED, That NASUCA strongly encourages the FCC to declare broadband Internet access service as a telecommunications service eligible for the universal service support mechanisms for the Lifeline and Link-Up programs; and be it further

RESOLVED, That NASUCA supports the expeditious establishment of a three-year federal Lifeline and Link-Up Pilot Program for broadband Internet access services and enabling access devices; and be it further

RESOLVED, That NASUCA asks the FCC to ensure that: (1) the Pilot Program will be open to all broadband Internet access service providers, irrespective of whether they are an ETC for the existing Lifeline and Link-Up programs, and that they will not be automatically designated as ETCs for other universal service support programs; (2) any broadband Internet access service provider which receives universal service support for any other FCC broadband programs within a State will also be required to participate in the Pilot Program within that State; (3) the Pilot Program provides significant enough benefits to overcome low-income consumers’ current inability to subscribe to broadband Internet access service; (4) the funding for the Pilot Program not increase the overall level of the universal service fund; and (5) all broadband Internet access service providers which are eligible to participate in any FCC broadband program, including the Pilot Program, be required to make equitable financial contributions to support such programs; and be it further

RESOLVED, That NASUCA asks the FCC to direct the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service to conduct an evaluation of the Pilot Program during its implementation and to make recommendations regarding its continuation and configuration as a national program; and be it further

RESOLVED, That because of the States’ significant experience in administering Lifeline and Link-Up programs for local telephone service the FCC should modify its proposed Pilot Program to allow States to administer the eligibility and verification procedures for low income participants in the Pilot Program; and be it further .

RESOLVED, That the NASUCA Telecommunications Committee, with the approval of the Executive Committee of NASUCA, is authorized to take any and all actions consistent with this Resolution in order to secure its implementation.
Approved by NASUCA
Place: Boston, MA
Date June 30, 2009

Submitted by the:
Telecommunications Committee

[1]  See Inquiry Concerning High-Speed Access to the Internet  over Cable and Other Facilities, Declaratory Ruling and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 17 F.C.C.R. 4798, 4802 (March 15, 2002) (cable modem service); Appropriate Framework for Broadband Access to the Internet over Wireline Facilities, Report and Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 20 F.C.C.R. 14853 (Sept. 23, 2005) (wireline DSL); United Power Line Council’s Petition for Declaratory Ruling Regarding the Classification of Broadband over Power Line Internet Access Service as an Information Service, Memorandum Opinion and Order, 21 F.C.C.R. 13281 (Nov. 7, 2006) (broadband over powerline); Wireless Broadband Internet Access Services Order, Declaratory Ruling, 22 F.C.C.R. 5901 (March 23, 2007) (broadband over wireless).

[2] By “broadband,” NASUCA means, at a minimum, any service with information transfer rates equal to or greater than 768 kbps in both directions, corresponding to the lower limit of “basic broadband tier 1 service” as currently defined by the FCC.  See In re: Development of Nationwide Broadband Data to Evaluate Reasonable and Timely Deployment of Advanced Services to All Americans, Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 23 F.C.C.R. 9691, 9700-01, ¶20 & n. 66 (June 12, 2008).