October 17, 2005

Performance Measures for FCC Universal Service Programs

Key materials
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The Regulation

  • The FCC collects mandatory "contributions" from providers of interstate telecommunications services to subsidize rural telephone companies, phone service for low-income households, communications services for rural health care facilities, and Internet access for schools and libraries.
  • The FCC has sought comment on a variety of administrative issues, including performance measures.

Our Findings

  • As established in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, universal service programs are based on three assumptions:
    • Universal service programs cause affordable access to communications services.
    • Affordable access causes an increase in subscription or connectivity.
    • Increased subscription or connectivity improves economic, social, educational, and health outcomes.
  • Effective performance measures should tell use whether these three things are occurring.

Our Recommendations

  • The FCC should immediately develop performance measures that show how universal service programs have affected access, affordability, and connectivity to communications services.
  • Over the longer term, the FCC should measure the extent to which universal service programs improve economic, social, educational, and health outcomes.
  • In all cases, the FCC should assess the extent to which the universal service programs have actually caused the observed changes in the performance measures.