USF and Broadband: Good for Business
The expanse of broadband service can help and stimulate personal communications, economic advancement, and civic engagement.
The Universal Service Fund (USF) is evolving into a service over broadband connections. This will help the consumer, but this will also benefit most organizations, whether a business, government, educational institution, or non-profit. The USF is focused on basic telephone service, emergency communications, and those with disabilities, But there is a movement to expand the basic service concept to include broadband access.
I recently read the Public Knowledge 51 page white paper Universal Service in an All-IP World. Public Knowledge . is a Washington, D.C.-based public interest group working to defend consumer rights in the emerging digital culture. This paper provides a detailed history and background about the USF and it provisions.
"Voice service certainly continues to be critical to business, personal, and emergency communications, but the time has now come to also acknowledge that broadband Internet access service is itself a basic service," the white paper states. "The days of treating broadband access as a luxury are gone, and our policies should reflect that."Basic Service and the USF
Universal Service is described by the FCC as "the principle that all Americans should have access to communications services. Universal service is also the name of a fund and the category of FCC programs and policies to implement this principle."
The USF is supported by fees charged on telephone bills. The contribution amount for the USF varies by quarter. The proposed 2Q15 USF contribution factor will be 17.4% of the applicable charges on the telephone bill.
The FCC is continuously modernizing its universal service programs to stimulate further investment in and access to broadband and voice services. The program efforts are focused on supporting broadband expansion and adoption while improving efficiency and reducing financial waste in the programs.Broadband as a Basic Service
Broadband as a basic service has gained traction in the industry, and some think it should be included in universal service policies. The FCC's update of its Universal Service Fund disbursements requires eligible telecommunications carriers to offer broadband in their supported service areas.
The expanse of broadband service can help and stimulate personal communications, economic advancement, and civic engagement. Some examples are online education or distance learning, supporting capacity for documents, graphics, videos, and two-way communications for live chats between students and teachers. Telemedicine can improve the spread of healthcare and support remote health monitoring, expanding the coverage into remote areas and possibly reducing health care costs.What Should be Delivered
There are a number of factors that need to be addressed to deliver broadband service that is comparable with the PSTN it is replacing. The ones that I think are most important besides affordability are:
Call quality, persistence, functionality -- These should be at least as good as the PSTN now supports, but not as good as a cellular call.
Public safety -- This includes both 911 and E911.
Device interoperability -- This covers analog telephone adapters (ATA), TTY use for the deaf, medic alert, home security systems, FAX, credit card/point-of-sale terminals, ATMs, voting machines, and a wide range of other devices.
Accessibility -- There should be few areas of the U.S. that cannot subscribe to the service.
Availability -- The service should be as reliable as PSTN wireline call.The Impact
The service providers will be migrating to all IP in the future, but this will take time and will be unevenly implemented. The communications customers should be given adequate time, as much as a year, to modify their resident devices and technologies to connect to broadband IP services. This provides an opportunity for the device and technology vendors to offer modified or new products.
There have been customer complaints that providers are not adequately maintaining the existing copper plant. Other complaints have been made that providers are trying to force customers to move to broadband services, which cost more and produces higher revenue and profits for the provider.
It is in the interests of a wide range of organizations to get behind the responsible migration to IP networks in a timely, minimally disruptive, and inexpensive manner. The impact of a rushed migration, especially where the IP network does not support the same connections and services as the PSTN, will cause significant organization and consumer costs that will not be covered by providers. The PSTN is a great network. It will be hard to replace it with an all-IP network and provide equal connections and services.