The FCC could make up to a billion dollars or more available to telecom carriers beginning next year to encourage them to expand high-speed Internet connectivity to rural areas that lack service. The money would be made available from savings achieved through the agency's proposed extensive overhaul of the $8 billion federal universal service fund. The fund now subsidizes phone service in low-income and rural areas, but the FCC wants to redirect the money to promote broadband deployment and adoption, and cut waste and inefficiency in the process.
On Tuesday, all five FCC regulators approved a tentative version of Chairman Julius Genachowski's proposed changes for universal service. Buried within the 289-page text of the proposal, released tonight, are details of the recommended expenditures, which the document describes as a "one-time infusion of support."
To dole out the money, the FCC would conduct so-called reverse auctions that would award funds to companies willing to agree to build high-speed infrastructure (the agency is agnostic about the technology) at the lowest costs. The auctions would be held in 2012 and possibly 2014. To guide its decisions on where the money should be spent, the commission would rely on the National Broadband Map to be released by the Commerce Department on Feb. 17. The interactive map, which details which communities have broadband, will arrive too late, however, for the $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funding the Obama administration already has doled out to carriers to reach unserved and underserved areas.
Read the FCC's proposed rule changes for universal service here