ACA Summit: Efforts to revamp USF for broadband expansion still a thorny issue

The FCC and other agencies are still wrangling over how to revamp the Universal Service Fund (USF) to redirect dollars-for-voice to dollars-for-broadband, panelists at the ACA Summit in Washington, D.C., said.

While conceding that there is a need for a national broadband plan to serve untouched rural areas, Zac Katz, legal advisor for Wireline Communications, International and Internet Issues in FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's office, admitted that there are "some chronic challenges getting data, particularly from smaller providers" to determine where the service is needed and where the dollars should be spent.

Those problems are partially the result of a federal-state relationship that sometimes resembles "dysfunctional siblings," said Larry Landis, a commissioner with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. There is, Landis said, state level concern about USF funding how broadband will happen in "truly rural areas, which is the real core of the problem."

Defining an unserved, rather than underserved area, is also important, added Jack Smedile, a legislative assistant to Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, speaking in an afternoon ACA session.

"There are areas out there that are just untouched by broadband (but) we don't want to see dollars go into overbuild," Smedlie said.

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