A battle is raging in Washington, D.C., to save universal support funding for telephone customers in rural and small-city areas. For these customers, losing this battle could mean higher costs for their current service and less access to the advanced technologies they must have to compete in the global marketplace.

Universal service (via the Universal Service Fund or USF) is intended to help provide affordable telephone service to all Americans, especially those in high-cost rural areas as well as to provide needed discounts to schools, libraries, hospitals and to the poor.

Pressures on the universal service system are coming from a variety of sources. The present disbursement system provides millions of dollars annually not only to telephone service providers, but also to many well-established wireless providers that have obtained status as Competitive Eligible Telecommunications Providers, or CETCs. A CETC designation allows them to receive universal service funding based on the costs of the incumbent local telephone company rather than their own costs.

After more than two years, few rural consumers with a wireless CETC provider have seen better wireless service or lower wireless bills.

The writing on the wall is clear. Present rules that require the USF to fund multiple CETCs in rural markets causes all consumers to pay higher monthly fees. Alternatively, there may be fewer funds available to ensure advanced quality communications services throughout a market area, specifically in smaller cities and rural areas.

Jacquie Goodwill

PR Manager Oregon and Washington Centurytel

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