FCC reform: Connect America Fund

As part of its sweeping reforms, the FCC designs "a once-in-a-generation overhaul of universal service".

The FCC has announced its aims to expand broadband access in the US to over seven million residents of rural areas who are currently unserved. The plans will also extend high-speed internet access to 18 million Americans.

Its stated goals are to preserve and advance the universal availability of voice services, while ensuring the universal availability of broadband infrastructure.

The FCC has set very clear and explicit targets to this end: “While continuing to require that all eligible telecommunications carriers offer voice services, we now require that they also offer broadband services. We also establish specific and robust broadband performance for funding recipients.”

It also seeks to ensure that rates for broadband and voice services are “reasonably comparable” in all regions of the nation.

Carriers must provide broadband with actual speeds of at last 4Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream, with latency suitable for real-time applications as services such as VoIP.

The FCC has set a budget of $4.5 billion over the next six years, to provide funding for carriers and while protecting businesses and end users. The new Connect America Fund (CAF) will “help make broadband available to homes, businesses, and community anchor institutions in areas that do not, or would not otherwise, have broadband.” This also includes making mobile voice and broadband available in areas that do not have mobile service.

The CAF is based on incentive-based, market-driven policies, including competitive bidding, to distribute universal service funds as efficiently as possible.

A Mobility Fund will provide support of up to $300 million to deploy 3G and 4G mobile broadband services in unserved areas within two and four years. This sum will be awarded through a nationwide reverse auction which is expected to be conducted in 2012.

In addition, the FCC will provide a Remote Areas Fund, allocating $100 million annually to ensure that Americans in the most remote parts of the United States can receive affordable broadband through platforms such as satellites and unlicenced wireless.

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