Expansion of the Universal Service Fund to provide poor and rural communities with broadband access may not be the way to go.
Blair Levin, the previous executive director of the Omnibus Broadband Initiative at the FCC charged with developing a plan to initiate the National Broadband Plan, is rethinking his recommendations.
“Having wrestled with this problem for another year, I now believe the best thing we can do to enable more low-income households to get connected to broadband is not to expand the existing Lifeline/Link-up program, but rather to phase it out and build a broadband program on a different foundation,” Levin said at a forum sponsored by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
Part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the National Broadband Plan seeks to widen broadband access and affordability by providing incentives to reconfigure the spectrum to include mobile devices, adjust the Universal Service Program to include broadband access and fund a public safety broadband network.
USF provides subsidies for basic monthly telephone service through the Lifeline/Link-up programs. Panelists at the forum voiced concerns that issues such as access to computers and training are not addressed in the current Lifeline/Link-up programs.
While progress has been made in widening access, many still remain without access. Whether Lifeline continues as broadband’s foundation or another path is chosen, panelists agree the program needs to include free public education online, outreach and education to minority communities and public information channels that include content for African American and other communities of color.