FCC announces Connect America Fund

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently announced the creation of the Connect America Fund (CAF) as part of its reform and modernization of the Universal Service Fund. It outlined five goals for this reform, including ensuring universal availability of modern networks capable of providing voice and broadband service to homes, businesses, and community anchor institutions. The October 27, 2011, announcement focused on transitioning the high-cost fund (designed to ensure that consumers in rural, insular, and high-cost areas have access to telecommunications services at affordable rates) from telephony to broadband through the CAF and reforming Intercarrier Compensation.

“(This) action will help connect anchor institutions, which can play a vital role — for example, in expanding basic digital literacy training — in a world where broadband skills are necessary to find and land jobs,” said FCC Chairman Genachowski.

The American Library Association (ALA) has filed comments (pdf) in support of creating the CAF and providing funding through this new program to support the deployment of high-capacity broadband networks for libraries.

Both Commissioner Michael J. Copps and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn referenced the importance of connecting anchor institutions. “I am pleased that carriers that receive funding will be expected to connect community anchor institutions that they pass. These entities are often the places where unconnected consumers get their first exposure to broadband and learn how to use it,” Commissioner Copps said in his comments.

ALA first filed on the importance of this concept in comments on the development of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) as an incentive to providers to bring services to areas of the country where they do not currently exist. The Commission is making good on the original congressional mandate in the Telecommunications Act by including this requirement in the reform proceeding. By taking these steps, the Commission is working to ensure rural libraries will have access to broadband networks, and moving toward realizing the goals of the National Broadband Plan.

The Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, of which ALA is a founding member, also has actively advocated for this deployment to libraries and other community anchor institutions, as well as specific public interest obligation requirements.

“The SHLB Coalition applauds the FCC for following the recommendations of Representatives Matsui, Markey, Eshoo and Doyle to ensure that recipients of USF support must serve the broadband needs of community anchor institutions in rural America,” said SHLB Executive Director John Windhausen. “We are particularly pleased that anchor institutions are given an opportunity to participate in the design of the broadband networks serving their areas, and that recipients of USF funding must include the anchor institutions served in their annual reports.”

The full order has not yet been released and may not be available for review and analysis for a week or more. The ALA Washington Office will share additional information as it becomes available, particularly when there is more detail about the potential impacts for rural and tribal libraries. The FCC also is expected to take up proceedings related to Lifeline/LinkUp and E-rate later this year or early 2012.

About Larra Clark

As Deputy Director of the American Library Association's Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP), Larra’s responsibilities include overall management of OITP’s telecommunications portfolio and day-to-day management of America’s Libraries for the 21st Century (AL21C) projects and those in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Previously, she served as the project manager in the ALA Office for Research & Statistics for three years.

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