Luján Chairs Broadband Subcommittee Hearing Focused on The State of Universal Service
Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Chair of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, convened a Subcommittee hearing titled “The State of Universal Service” (USF) to examine the need for connectivity in rural and insular areas, low-income households, health care providers, and for access to broadband in our nation’s schools and libraries. The hearing also focused on the current state of the USF, identify areas for improvement, and explore potential reforms to ensure its effectiveness in the years to come.
Ahead of the hearing, Senators Luján and John Thune (R-S.D.) announced a bipartisan Senate working group to evaluate and propose potential reforms to the Universal Service Fund (USF).
The Universal Service Fund is critical federal funding that supports the expansion of telecommunications through its four support programs: the High Cost Program, Lifeline, E-Rate, and the Rural Health Care Program. As demand for connectivity in all aspects of American life continues to grow, it is essential to consider the current state of the USF to ensure it meets the needs of Americans today and in the future.
Senator Luján’s witnesses included:
- Tim Chavez, Director of Technology, Cuba Independent School District, New Mexico;
- Angie Kronenberg, President, INCOMPAS;
- Greg Guice, Director of Government Affairs, Public Knowledge.
An excerpt of Senator Luján’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:
Universal service has been a critical part of communications policy since Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.
Last Congress, we passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and made a historic commitment. We made it abundantly clear that every household, every health care center, every school, every community institution, and every business in the country should have access to high-quality, affordable broadband service.
And while the $65 billion dollars of investment we made in that package was important, I recognize that one-time investments will only get us so far.
We also need programs that can meet the needs of future connectivity and continue to deliver affordability and access to households and institutions year after year.
That was the reason behind the 1996 Telecommunications Act and the creation of FCC’s Universal Service Fund.
The fund supports four programs with a proven track record. These programs are:
- High Cost Support, also known as the Connect America Fund, to subsidize service to our most rural communities;
- Low-Income Support, or the Lifeline program, which helps low-income families pay for their monthly telephone service;
- Schools and Libraries Support, or the “E-Rate” program, to ensure our educational institutions have high quality access; and
- Rural Health Care Support, which helps ensure telehealth services are available and accessible in our rural communities.
Through these programs, none of our schools, our hospitals, including those in the most rural communities across our country—should be left behind.
In the 21st Century, we understand that connectivity makes a difference whether our children are prepared to compete globally; whether our health care system is well equipped to save lives; whether we can provide equitable opportunities in historically underserved communities; and whether American workers can participate in the 21st century economy.
As we come together today and reflect on what we learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what we accomplished through our COVID relief packages and in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we have the opportunity to build on the promise and possibility of Universal Service and how these programs should be updated, improved, and expanded to meet the needs of tomorrow.