FCC Proposes Sweeping Changes to Federal Universal Service Support

On May 20, 2022, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched a proceeding proposing new rules to extend the terms of existing Alternative Connect America Cost Model (A-CAM) offers for six more years – until 2034 – to achieve widespread deployment of 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload broadband Internet service in rural areas. The FCC seeks comment on this proposal, on ways to improve the management and administration of the high-cost program, and on minor changes related to implementing the A-CAM model – all issues vital to rural carriers. These proposed new rules will likely shape future federal universal service policy for A-CAM carriers and those remaining on legacy support programs.

A-CAM is a universal service support mechanism in which the FCC allows carriers to choose a form of incentive regulation and fixed financial support in exchange for binding commitments to deliver high-speed Internet to a predetermined number of locations. Approximately half of all rural carriers nationally have elected A-CAM regulation. While the FCC seeks to comment mainly on the proposal to extend the term on existing A-CAM offers, it also asks whether legacy carriers should be eligible for “Enhanced A-CAM,” which extends support to 2034.

In this proceeding, the FCC recognizes that its current A-CAM offers relied on imprecise Form 477 location data and announces it will use new location data obtained through the Broadband Data Collection (BDC) for Enhanced A-CAM offers. The FCC notes that the recently passed Broadband DATA Act requires the FCC to use the new location information “when making any new award of funding.” However, the use of the BDC-derived data can potentially affect A-CAM and legacy carriers because the FCC may determine that federal support is not needed where the BDC data shows that locations already have 100/20 Mbps broadband Internet service. Given these implications, clients may want to comment on how best to coordinate the Enhanced A-CAM offer with the forthcoming BDC results.

Another noteworthy aspect of the proceeding is the FCC’s desire to harmonize the Enhanced A-CAM support proposal with other federal funding programs. Specifically, the FCC seeks comment on how to avoid duplication of federal support in light of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and its $42.45 billion Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. Additionally, clients may want to comment on items such as revisions to deployment obligations, performance measurements, service affordability, support amount calculations, and location eligibility. Clients should also consider filing comments supporting the new Enhanced A-CAM proposal to provide payments in certain census blocks that did not receive support during the first round of A-CAM (known as A-CAM I) due to the presence of fiber or cable modem service.

In addition to the weighty matters already described, the FCC addresses potential changes to annual reporting requirements and certification obligations, treatment of mergers and acquisitions and their support calculations, reporting of line counts, and the process to relinquish Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) status.

Comments are due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. JSI will provide more information once the dates are announced in the Federal Register. JSI encourages clients to participate in this important proceeding individually, in groups, or with your national associations.

JSI can help you prepare comments and discuss the topics raised in the proceeding. Please click the button below for any questions you may have or to discuss how we can assist in drafting comments.