Universal Service Fund Reform and Long-Term Affordability Solutions - Episode 577 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Angela Siefer (Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance) and Greg Guice (Chief Policy Officer at the Vernon Berg Group) to tackle a familiar and increasingly important topic in the area of the digital divide: Universal Service Fund (USF) reform. 

At present, the USF is overcommitted and stretched to its limits, providing critical operational and infrastructure support for rural broadband on an unsustainable budget. Angela and Greg talk with Christopher about how modernizing and expanding the program - including making the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) permanent - is necessary to meet the equity and inclusion goals we have set as a country.

Along the way, the group discusses the challenges in designing solutions that address the challenges of universal broadband access in an evolving digital landscape.

This show is 33 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Transcript below.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.


Greg Guice (00:07):
We are truly connecting people. We are closing the digital divide for low income families. That's important for those low income families, but it's also important for us as a society because only by keeping them connected, do we retain and gain on those economic benefits, the educational benefits, the healthcare benefits. And so that's why it's important [00:00:30] for all of us to care.

Christopher Mitchell (00:31):
Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in St. Paul, Minnesota. And today I'm back with Angela Siefer, the executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. Welcome to the show,

Angela Siefer (00:50):
Joining you from Columbus, Ohio. Thanks for having me, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell (00:53):
Wonderful to have you back. And then Greg, I think it is your first time on the show, Greg Guice, who is now the Chief Policy [00:01:00] Officer at the Vernon Berg Group. Welcome.

Greg Guice (01:02):
Thank you very much. Glad to be here. Good to see you guys.

Christopher Mitchell (01:05):
Greg, a longtime staple of the public interest telecommunications world. We are going to be talking about USF reform today, Universal Service Fund, which is a topic where I feel like there's a bit of me that's like, no, no, no, don't turn it off. It's going to be good. I feel like it's a topic that is suddenly crucial to digital equity. And [00:01:30] so Angela, I feel like you should maybe kick off just the overview to it because you suggested we should do the show.

Angela Siefer (01:37):
I did suggest we should do the show, and the reason I suggested we should do the show is because I think we're in entry level point of folks understanding what USF is, including folks in the digital equity space, and that we need more folks to understand what Universal Service Fund is because it's going to impact more of the digital equity work than it has previously. [00:02:00] Right now, USF is more, it's lifeline, it's some deployment money, some health money, some E-Rate, and there's, if we are successful, it will include the Affordable Connectivity program. So it will then be part of the solutions, our federal solutions to the digital inclusion work that occurs in the United States. And since that is a path and that is an intent that [00:02:30] is not really being argued against, there's nobody including Republicans who say, we shouldn't put ACP in the Universal Service Fund. So because that's a reality that most people are like, yeah, those who understand it, they're like, yeah, this is a good idea. Then I think it means more folks should understand what USF is, who are involved in the broadband space.

Christopher Mitchell (02:49):
Yeah, absolutely. You got, I feel like dragged in here and I would've imagined it more kicking and screaming, but I feel like you recognized how important it was and you were like, yeah, let's just do this thing

Angela Siefer (02:58):
Someplace ACP that's [00:03:00] permanent with an ongoing funding source, and there's lots to fix. Greg can get into that, lots to fix about USF, but it is, and if we fix those things, we'll be a permanent solution to the portable connectivity program as funding source,

Christopher Mitchell (03:14):
And we're going to explain why ACP is such a good fit for it in a second. So I was going to ask Greg about the USF reform sort of movement, which is to say that I feel like what Angela just said, no one's really opposed to fixing [00:03:30] this. I feel like everyone's recognized that USF desperately needs to be reformed, but it still wasn't happening. So I'm curious if you could sketch out some of the politics around why something that everyone has agreed needs to be reformed for, I don't know, 20 years, why it hasn't happened yet.

Greg Guice (03:47):
Yeah, they're just these really bizarre dynamics at play when it comes to the Universal Service Fund. We've had this program in one form or another since we began our Communications Network [00:04:00] oversight back in the thirties. At one point, it was an accounting system that was embedded into the way that we paid our bills and companies exchanged money between each other, and there was a monopolist at the time who really just shifted money from one bucket to the next. And then in 1996, Congress made it explicit and we stood up this program that everybody, if you look on your phone bill, you'll see a line item that says Universal Connectivity Charge or something like that. And that's what that's paying for. It's ultimately the provider's [00:04:30] responsibility to pay it, but the end user pay the fee, the politics around it are this, it is in desperate need of reform, but the willpower to do it just has not been there.

There's been challenges around should it keep funding schools and libraries critically important program that helps school children get connected, stay connected, learn at school, should it do more in the rural health context, should it have an affordability component? And in fact, over the last nine years, [00:05:00] the big fight has been around what the Lifeline program, which is the program for low-income families, what it should look like and what it should do. And it has been a lot of politics. The low-income families unfortunately became the scapegoat in the last decade as the reason that universal service programs were out of control. And it was unfortunate. You heard about Obama phones, which were actually, it was not an Obama era program. It was started [00:05:30] under Ronald Reagan, but just a lot of scapegoating of low-income families. And that really lost about eight years for us in trying to get universal service reform done.

And so today we find ourselves at an inflection point where there cannot be any more excuses. It is critical that we reform these programs, one, because the base on which it's funded is absolutely unstable, but two, we need to update these programs for the current times. [00:06:00] They fund broadband kind of, and broadband is the most essential communications network of our time. And for the FCC to say, we'll do it, but we can't really do it fully demonstrates just how broken this program is. And there are things that we need to be doing that we could do better.

Christopher Mitchell (06:17):
And I would like to just throw in a bit of context, which is that I feel like certainly Greg, this better than I do, but I'm going to say it quicker I think maybe, which is that when you become FCC chair, you got four years [00:06:30] in a good situation to do a bunch of things, but it's not really a bunch of things. You could kind of do two or three major things and then some smaller number of minor things. There's only so much capacity that you have, and this is such a big thing. I feel like every chair is like, oh, it needs to be done, but I want to do these other things instead. And so that's really helped to kick the can down the road. I think everyone agrees it should be done, but no one wants to forego something that they view as a higher priority in order to get this thing done. And that's just the nature of the way the FCC does business.

Angela Siefer (07:00):
[00:07:00] Can I add, I think the other thing that kept it from happening is where the money's coming from question. Because it may mean that the fees need to be assessed someplace else and everybody's like, not me, not me, not me. And we have a whole bunch of not mes out there, then you don't want to make enemies to people. So then you're like, well, I guess we'll do it later. We don't want to irritate people. Well, somebody's going to be very unhappy at the end of this. We have to figure out where else to assess the fees. So it has to happen. And yes, there's definitely going to be some folks [00:07:30] who are unhappy.

Christopher Mitchell (07:31):
Well, and this is why the USF is so special is because when we set up the Affordable Connectivity Program, well, when they did, I can't take any credit for it, but when it was set up, it was an appropriation from Congress. They say, here's a big chunk of money, 14 billion, something like that. And then you'll just keep taking out of this chunk of money until it runs out, and then Congress will put more in or it won't, but either way, there won't be any more money left. That is how ACP [00:08:00] works, and we are really afraid that's going to happen in early 2024 Q two, probably somewhere around there. And the USF is magical in that it does not require another appropriation from Congress that Congress has given the Federal Communications Commission the authority to tax people effectively to assess a fee more specifically that is then used to refill the fund so they can keep expending money and then bringing in new money. But as [00:08:30] Angela says right now, it comes from a very small base and nobody wants to be the one that starts taxing broadband. Right now we're effectively taxing, I think, interstate communications or something like that. And so we all pay a small amount on our mobile phone bill, but really a bigger base would be a smaller tax on a bigger base of broadband. And that's a political hot potato

Greg Guice (08:53):
Right now. We tax put the fee, it's not a tax. We put a fee on interstate telecommunications [00:09:00] revenue, and that is basically if you have a phone, a home phone, long distance service, that's what it's taxing. That's the fee is on. If you have VoIP service portion of that, just the phone calling itself and of those phone calls, just the phone calls that the providers say are interstate. So it really just narrows and narrows and narrows and it's become unsustainable.

Christopher Mitchell (09:27):
And so that is sort of why [00:09:30] I think we want the ACP to be folded in there because we don't want to have to be hoping that Congress will put more money into it. We want the Federal Communications Commission to be able to keep it funded. Now, I think it'd be helpful to just talk about what USF is briefly. And so Angela, if you want to tackle, there's four programs, so you get to pick two and then we'll make Greg describe the other two.

Angela Siefer (09:50):
I'll take Lifeline and E-Rate. Greg, you get the other ones. Okay, so Lifeline is $9 and 25 cents for eligible households can go towards their phone [00:10:00] or broadband service. And so this is mobile, wireline home, whatever it is, but it's only $9 and 25 cents. So it's usefulness very limited. Those who subscribe to this benefit mostly use it for their mobile service. And then E-Rate is the subsidy that helps schools and libraries have Internet coming into those buildings. And so both of these programs are really important. And [00:10:30] there's a little bit of pushback from some folks that there's not a need for mobile service anymore for mobile broadband service or even a phone service, which we would say is completely inaccurate. I use a phone still, my doctor and others require sometimes that I make a phone call. So you do still need phone service. And E-Rate is, I would say safer that there is general understanding and recognition that schools and libraries do need their broadband service [00:11:00] and that they may need the government's help to pay for them.

Christopher Mitchell (11:03):
So that's two of the four Universal Service Fund programs. Greg, what are the other two? One is the one people always forget.

Greg Guice (11:12):
Yes, the Rural Healthcare Program, which is critical. It allows rural clinics to get connected. So a doctor say in Omaha can help a patient in rural Nebraska without that patient having to direct to their facility. So it facilitates telehealth, telemedicine, it's an amazing program. [00:11:30] It's capped at, I think it's 400 million, maybe a little bit more, but all the same. It's a really phenomenal program that does a lot of work. The other one is the high cost program. And high cost means areas that are too high in cost to provide service. So think rural America, and that is about half of the program is a little less than half is in the high cost program. So if you're in a rural area, a small [00:12:00] provider connects you to broadband. It's being paid for mostly through the universal service model.

Christopher Mitchell (12:06):
That's where

Angela Siefer (12:07):
Clarify, that is operational costs, not like to deploy the broadband to the high cost area.

Greg Guice (12:16):
The way it doesn't, the infrastructure money that we're working on right now, everybody hears about the BEAD program, that's capital dollars. Here's some money, go build a network. What the USF does, it says [00:12:30] you go build a network and over time we'll give you money. And so it's more operating expense as opposed to capital expense.

Christopher Mitchell (12:38):
And so people hear about the Connect America Fund or RDOF, the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund. Both of those come out of the high cost fund as does acam and extended acam. If you haven't heard of those, then your brain hurts less than ours. So we would like the ACP to be within the Universal Service Fund. We have [00:13:00] those four funds and we have the Affordable Connectivity Program, which we would like to be combined with Lifeline effectively to make sure that there is an effective subsidy to low-income households and that it does not require ongoing approval from Congress to keep making those subsidies. So Angela, what is the problem? Why don't we just do that?

Angela Siefer (13:24):
Right, so the biggest problem is that there's not enough money right now in USF and it's because of [00:13:30] what Greg described of where the money's coming from. So there needs to be another source we could keep what we have. We don't need them to stop, we don't need to stop doing that, but we would need to add an additional source. An obvious kind of source is broadband itself. Like if broadband is going to, if we need it to cover broadband service, then broadband could be the source you might met. You might can probably guess. There are those who don't want to be doing that. The Internet service providers don't think this is the best idea. But then it also becomes [00:14:00] more complicated because it could be, well, which broadband are we talking about accounts over certain sizes so that it's not a regressive tax? Is it corporate? And then is it the bigger network? So what about the bigger ones like Amazon or not, but users of these services and how do we make sure that they are being assessed appropriately? So it does get started to get complicated in terms of where the money comes from.

Christopher Mitchell (14:28):
This is one of my favorite [00:14:30] questions because I would love to see Facebook taxed more just personally, but I do think it is harder to make that case legally where you draw the line, whereas a lot of people I think just throw out there, why don't we get it from Google and Facebook and Amazon? So that is one of the complications as we talk about broadening the base. But there's one other thing that I was, if you knew Greg off the top of your head, which is how much money is currently expended per year from the USF?

Greg Guice (14:59):
Yeah, so right now [00:15:00] it's around eight and a half billion dollars a year.

Christopher Mitchell (15:02):
And so ACP alone would just double that out of the gate almost.

Greg Guice (15:06):
That's right, that's right. And that's why it's with the current structure, you simply can't do it. And that's really the challenge we face of a double the size. Currently the factor, the contribution percentage is around 33%. Again, it's not 33% of your total bill, but it's 33% of the interstate telecom portion of your bill. And so [00:15:30] it's a big number. That's a big percentage. If you put broadband in, it would drop it down to around 4%. Now it's the same amount of money, but as Angela pointed out, you're spreading it across a larger base of people, which helps make it fair and allows you the opportunity to do some of these affordability and some other things that need to be reformed in USF. So it's a very important step to take.

Christopher Mitchell (15:55):
So Angela, well both of you have been working on it, but I was going to turn to Angela. So I'm going [00:16:00] to Angela, you mentioned at the beginning, no one's really opposed to this, but I'm curious, is anyone opposed to this? First of all, is there anyone who just says, no, let's just keep it the way it is?

Angela Siefer (16:11):
No, I don't think there's anyone who says Let's keep it the way it is. There is a small group that is taking their efforts through the courts that says,

Christopher Mitchell (16:20):
Let's blow it up, boom, scratch it all,

Angela Siefer (16:24):
Blow it up.

Christopher Mitchell (16:25):
That's the scary option.

Angela Siefer (16:27):
That's the option we really don't want to have [00:16:30] happen. And then after that, there's the more reasonable amongst those of us out there who are figuring out. So if we can change contribution, that's a whole discussion. Where is the money come from? And as mota, there's disagreement on that. And then separate from that is the conversation on, okay, so if we do get contribution figured out, then what does USF look like after that? What is that reform that Greg's talking about? I think modernization is [00:17:00] probably the right word. Just as we modernize lifeline to have it include broadband, which is actually how NDIA came to be because that was happening. And so now it's time to modernize USF and how do any of these programs change? How much do they change? And that's not going to be easy. So this whole change that needs to occur, A big, big question is how quickly can we get it done? So if we do get temporary money from Congress to hold us off [00:17:30] on ACP, can we fix USF before that money runs out and get the new program in place?

Greg Guice (17:36):
There's a whole bunch of folks talking about this on Capitol Hill Senators bipartisan basis formed USF working group. Some members in the house have joined that effort. So there's a bipartisan look in Congress to say what needs to be done here? Angela and I are working as a part of a effort to try to see if there's various [00:18:00] stakeholders. As we've noted, there are people that have on the funding side that get money from these programs that have a vested interest in ensuring their money keeps coming, which may not be the purest reason to keep something going. It's not altruistic, it's pragmatic, but they need those funds to make the programs work. But there are also people that think about how do we address affordability. Those of us have been living it for the last year trying to get some money into this program because we do know it's going to run [00:18:30] out next year.

It's been very clear to us that there's absolutely no way we can lead this to appropriations. It is a terrible way to do it, and so we need to move it from that. And USF is the home, so we're, there's a broad group of folks talking about it now. What could we potentially do and how do we get the agency to move? How do we get Congress to get them the information they need to try to make these changes? And so there is a concerted effort and I think we're seeing it from various [00:19:00] aspects, people trying to come together to figure out what to do next.

Angela Siefer (19:05):
The fact that we have the Senate and now I'm told it's a bike camera, it's not even just limited to the Senate. So we have both Senate and House elected representatives there staff in there talking about how to fix USF. That's incredible. That's sometimes government people do talk to each other and try to figure out solutions. It's a goal. It's even [00:19:30] happening. And so NDIA got to go talk a couple of weeks ago and our policy director and our senior policy person that all both of them went in and had this great conversation with the group, got asked good questions. People are really trying to figure it out. It is bipartisan and it is by camera, and I'm told we might be seeing something come out of them, some suggestions. The possibilities are really there. And her Greg's note that this has been going on for so long, we are definitely [00:20:00] closer in having more conversations and need more people to engage in those conversations than ever before.

Christopher Mitchell (20:06):
I have to plug a book that I really like because I want to talk briefly about what would have to happen to achieve USF reform. And so I've plugged this book everywhere. I know Jennifer Polka recoding America talking about a whole bunch of suggestions, really smart suggestions about how to reform the way that government works and the way the FCC works is a way that [00:20:30] I think is deeply problematic and is very legalistic. And so to get a sense of that, but she presents some alternatives in that book of how an administrative agency like that could work. At any rate, if Congress passed to something or if the FCC decided to just jump in and be like, let's get this done, then they would have to pass a notice of proposed rulemaking and that would let people [00:21:00] know that they were taking this up and it would have a bunch of questions and ideas about what they planned on doing.

There would be long comment periods and reply periods in which anyone and everyone should get on the record to get their thoughts in the agency would be considering that. It would be having meetings with a lot of people that had deep thoughts on it and deep pockets often too on it. And then the commission would come up with an order and you would need a majority of the five person commission to pass it. And that's the sort of thing [00:21:30] that I would think usually on an order might take a year or more to get through on something this major, although there's no law saying you have to take that long on it. You could say, this is so important, we got to get it done. Or 15 million families are going to lose Internet access potentially.

Greg Guice (21:49):
In fact, the FCC has done it much faster during the pandemic. They ran some programs and got 'em stood up and got money going out the door in 90 days, 120 days. Pretty amazing [00:22:00] stuff. Now I would want them, what you described Chris, is the deliberate process that the FCC has to go through and they should have a target, they should have a quick target given the urgency of this. But I do think it is important that stakeholders have an opportunity to engage on the record. It gives us a good sound decision-making way to achieve these things right on Capitol Hill. They can give us the political solution that they negotiate and tell the FCC what to do. And I think that's great. [00:22:30] That would be helpful. The FCC however has existing authority that it can act on. If that process on Capitol Hill slows down and doesn't bear fruit, then the agency needs to understand now is the time to act.

We can't possibly be facing the end of 2024 when we've gotten potentially more money for ACP. The White House said they want more. Everybody on Capitol Hill says we want more this time, but we don't want to have to do this again. And so that's important to understand, [00:23:00] really puts it on the FCC to reform this program. We need them to act, ACT with urgency and urgency. The FCC can be one year and then another year to implement, but that means we're going to have a gap. And I think that's what Angela was alluding to. No matter what we do at this point, we're going to have a gap.

Christopher Mitchell (23:18):
And one of the things that I should say is that it's not just a matter of the agency should take everyone's opinion into account because that's a nice thing to do and good thinking people all agree with that. It's [00:23:30] also because we want to minimize the chance of lawsuits that would disrupt it. So you certainly have to take everyone's thoughts into the mind and make sure you end up with a good solution. Right now, the best case scenario is actually that we have funding that gets us through the end of next year, but that just means that basically, and Angela, this better than I do. So tell me if I get this wrong, but our best case scenario is that Congress puts enough money into the ACP that in the summer of next [00:24:00] year, they have to start winding it down because they know it's going to run out of money in November or December or January. And so no one's expecting Congress to take this up right before the election. And so if the FCC doesn't do anything, there is no good scenario for a nice easy transition at the end of the program. Really, this is pretty high stakes,

Angela Siefer (24:23):
But I wouldn't say that we definitely wouldn't get more money. We would go try [00:24:30] to get Congress to allocate some more and it is the kind of program that since people aren't against it, nobody that fights it. Well, very few people fighting against ACP and because of that, even though it's a big ask and it would be really hard, I mean it's hard right now or we don't even know that we are going to get what we need right now. But I think we have to assume that we are going to try.

Greg Guice (24:59):
And I would [00:25:00] just add to that real quick, Chris, I think if there were a demonstrated path forward out of this annual sort of problem of funding, I think Congress might be more willing to revisit.

Christopher Mitchell (25:13):
Sure, that makes sense. So at the end of the summer, there's clearly a path forward. They would say, we'll do the bridge funding to make sure that it happens. And there's must pass legislation at that point. I mean, I've gotten up on my soapbox once or twice about how furious I am that [00:25:30] Congress doesn't take its job seriously and actually markup bills and go through committee processes and work the bugs out instead, they just do these high stakes things in the middle of the night. But at any rate, that could still work for us.

Greg Guice (25:46):
Yeah, it's not a bad process when it's working for you. I mean it's terrible for everybody, but if that's the process you're in, then that's the process you're in. And Angela and I have met with a number of [00:26:00] folks on both sides of the aisle and there's a serious commitment to trying to ensure that this program stays around. I forgot to mention at the beginning, lifeline has six and a half million people in it. This program has 21 million. It's on a magnitude that's pretty great and there are a lot of reasons for that, but at the end of the day, it's $30 instead of $9 for broadband. I can't find $9 broadband anywhere. [00:26:30] So anyway, that's the importance here. We are truly connecting people. We are closing the digital divide for low income families, and that's important for those low income families. But it's also important for us as a society because only by keeping them connected, do we retain and gain on those economic benefits, the educational benefits, the healthcare benefits. And so that's why it's important for all of [00:27:00] us to care.

Christopher Mitchell (27:02):
No, and this is something I've also, another hobby horse of mine is I think people don't appreciate that if we could ensure that everyone was online, we would actually be able to save significant amounts of money by having one workflow through government, through business and other places. We're very inefficient right now because we don't know that everyone's able to use the Internet. So this is, I dunno if you realize that or not, Angela, but your work's actually quite important.

Angela Siefer (27:26):
So I recently came back from France. Fun fact, [00:27:30] the French government paid me to go speak there. But what I learned there is that their reason for doing the work that they do, which is mostly digital navigator work, is about access to those government services. So they do get that there much more I think, than we get it here.

Christopher Mitchell (27:49):
Yes. As we wrap up here, I want to check and see, I don't think we would expect ACP to just be carbon copied into USF. I think we would have to see [00:28:00] some rollback of eligibility. Right now, I think about 40% of US households qualify. That's probably too many for it to be reasonably sustainable. I've said, and Angela, you can slap me virtually, but I said I welcome them getting rid of the device thing because I feel like we need a good program for devices and that's not it. So we see some changes, I think.

Angela Siefer (28:22):
Yeah, no, I would definitely not slap that down. Chris. We do need a real device solution in the United States. [00:28:30] It's a significant problem, and right now nobody has the answers. All those Chromebooks that were purchased during pandemic lockdown days, the ones that were purchased early in those days, some of them are becoming just these bricks that are in kids' houses. So it's like we have a significant device problem that we haven't solved. So yes, I think the other piece of it is that sometimes with ACP, some of the device benefit is going towards really crappy devices and then that's keeping people, so there's [00:29:00] an ethical issue also right now with how some of the device benefit is being used. But the question of how we limit who has access to it in order to reduce the cost, that's another really hard, nobody wants the one to be the one to say, well, here's how we cut it, and you're going to lose your benefit and you're going to lose your benefit. That's another really sticky situation.

Greg Guice (29:25):
Yeah, it's a challenge because we know some of how people get subscribed to acp. [00:29:30] We know what eligibility criteria they're coming through, but we don't know if those eligibility criteria would overlap so that maybe a lower income person that came through, say the Veterans Benefit portal could also be covered through a SNAP portal. But we don't know. So we don't know if we cut one, who are we losing and should they have been lost if we're going to have that [00:30:00] discussion. I think that's the type of thing as we were saying about the FCC running a sort of a stakeholder based proceeding. That's the type of information that can be developed when an expert agency is in charge of something.

Angela Siefer (30:12):
Right. And it's also, if we're heading down that path, we're going to see more researchers dive in and come up and do those assessments. But because it's not clear to folks that we are heading down this path, there aren't enough researchers getting involved to do the different assessments.

Christopher Mitchell (30:27):
Yeah, I think the research is important, although [00:30:30] I'll just come back to Jennifer Polka again and note that I really hope that we're able to negotiate easy way to sign up for those who are eligible because one of the things I fear is that we will end up with some sort of convoluted way. An example that I've used is that my family's eligible, my someone's at a Title one school. And so you could say, well make sure that Chris's family, which is doing well, I make millions of dollars a year on this podcast. Obviously I shouldn't be eligible. So let's make it really complicated for other people [00:31:00] to cut off me. But I think one of the things that ACP has shown, and I could be wrong, is that some of the streams are easier to sign up for, which is easier. It's the wrong word. They prevent, they have less burden for a person to sign their family up for it. And that's something that's really important if we've learned anything from programs that are effective.

Angela Siefer (31:22):
So one way to look at it is because we have been doing this now, we do know the routes that work better than the other routes. [00:31:30] And so we do have knowledge to be able to guide the FCC and adjusting the program so that it is easier. And if we end up with Lifeline and ACP inside one program at the FCC theoretically, then it'd be easier for somebody who's eligible to apply their $9 and 25 cents to one service and their $30 to another service and to be able to see it all in one place. Because right now they have to go to two different portals to make [00:32:00] this work. There are possibilities for us, and I actually have pretty high hopes in part because NDIA has spent so much time talking to our affiliates who are helping people sign up for ACP that we do know what works and what doesn't work. It's going to take some time to write it all down and come up with some suggestions, but I feel like n DIA's community, they know some of the answers to these questions right now.

Christopher Mitchell (32:24):
Excellent. Any closing thoughts, Greg?

Greg Guice (32:26):
There are a lot of people that are trying to focus on this, and [00:32:30] Angela and I are working with some of these folks, and I think the more that you hear about it, if you see your lawmaker in your community, if you have an opportunity to talk to somebody, your neighbor, just tell 'em how important the program is, even if you're not a beneficiary. These are the types of programs that matter to people and help build a community. And so just making certain that everybody's aware that this exists and what a neat thing that our government has taken, undertaken for us, and that there's this way to make this permanent, this [00:33:00] great idea permanent that was actually born from a bipartisan effort. And that's rare in these days. And so it just seems like it would be a shingle at this time.

Christopher Mitchell (33:09):
Yeah, I would second that. Also. Some of the work that we've done with tribes, we've overlapped and worked with some of the First Nations in Canada, and I've peered into some of the Canadian policy and we do it way better than Canada. When it comes down to getting this money out for broadband, we're killing it and we shouldn't give up on it just because Congress is finding it difficult [00:33:30] to reauthorize it. We need to get a permanent solution.

Greg Guice (33:33):
That's right.

Christopher Mitchell (33:34):
Anything, any last words, Angela?

Angela Siefer (33:36):
I think the more folks that are starting to engage in this conversation, the more we're going to move this forward. So thank you.

Christopher Mitchell (33:43):
Excellent. So reach out to your elected folks. The Universal Service Fund needs to be reformed. We need to make it a priority. Make sure that we can have a program that makes everyone get online. We will all benefit ultimately from making sure everyone's able to use the Internet, whether that's [00:34:00] the increased opportunities or just saving money on government and business processes that don't have to be assuming in person as well as over the Internet. So thank you both.

Greg Guice (34:10):
Thanks Chris.

Ry Marcattilio (34:11):
We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muni networks.org/broadbandbits. Email us@podcastmuninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter, his handles at communitynets, follow muni networks.org. Stories on Twitter, the handles at muni networks. [00:34:30] Subscribe to this and other podcasts from ILSR, including Building Local Power Local Energy Rules, and the Composting for Community Podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter@ilsr.org. While you're there, please take a moment to donate your support in any amount. Keeps us going. Thank you to Arnie Sby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, [00:35:00] licensed through Creative Commons. This was the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Thanks for listening.