47 USC 254.
Re: Universal Service.
SEC. 254. UNIVERSAL SERVICE.
(a) Procedures to Review Universal Service Requirements:
(1) Federal-state joint board on universal service: Within one month
after the date of enactment of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Commission shall
institute and refer to a Federal-State Joint Board under section 410(c) a proceeding to
recommend changes to any of its regulations in order to implement sections 214(e) and this
section, including the definition of the services that are supported by Federal universal
service support mechanisms and a specific timetable for completion of such
recommendations. In addition to the members of the Joint Board required under section
410(c), one member of such Joint Board shall be a State-appointed utility consumer
advocate nominated by a national organization of State utility consumer advocates. The
Joint Board shall, after notice and opportunity for public comment, make its
recommendations to the Commission 9 months after the date of enactment of the
Telecommunications Act of 1996.
(2) Commission action: The Commission shall initiate a single
proceeding to implement the recommendations from the Joint Board required by paragraph (1)
and shall complete such proceeding within 15 months after the date of enactment of the
Telecommunications Act of 1996.
The rules established by such proceeding shall include a definition of the services
that are supported by Federal universal service support mechanisms and a specific
timetable for implementation. Thereafter, the Commission shall complete any proceeding to
implement subsequent recommendations from any Joint Board on universal service within one
year after receiving such recommendations.
(b) Universal Service Principles: The Joint Board and the Commission
shall base policies for the preservation and advancement of universal service on the
(1) Quality and rates: Quality services should be available at just,
reasonable, and affordable rates.
(2) Access to advanced services: Access to advanced telecommunications
and information services should be provided in all regions of the Nation.
(3) Access in rural and high cost areas: Consumers in all regions of
the Nation, including low-income consumers and those in rural, insular, and high cost
areas, should have access to telecommunications and information services, including
interexchange services and advanced telecommunications and information services, that are
reasonably comparable to those services provided in urban areas and that are available at
rates that are reasonably comparable to rates charged for similar services in urban areas.
(4) Equitable and nondiscriminatory contributions: All providers of
telecommunications services should make an equitable and nondiscriminatory contribution to
the preservation and advancement of universal service.
(5) Specific and predictable support mechanisms: There should be
specific, predictable and sufficient Federal and State mechanisms to preserve and advance
(6) Access to advanced telecommunications services for schools, health care,
and libraries: Elementary and secondary schools and classrooms, health care
providers, and libraries should have access to advanced telecommunications services as
described in subsection (h).
(7) Additional principles: Such other principles as the Joint Board
and the Commission determine are necessary and appropriate for the protection of the
public interest, convenience, and necessity and are consistent with this Act.
(1) In general: Universal service is an evolving level of
telecommunications services that the Commission shall establish periodically under this
section, taking into account advances in telecommunications and information technologies
and services. The Joint Board in recommending, and the Commission in establishing, the
definition of the services that are supported by Federal universal service support
mechanisms shall consider the extent to which such telecommunications services--
(A) are essential to education, public health, or public safety;
(B) have, through the operation of market choices by customers, been subscribed to by a
substantial majority of residential customers;
(C) are being deployed in public telecommunications networks by telecommunications
(D) are consistent with the public interest, convenience, and necessity.
(2) Alterations and modifications: The Joint Board may, from time to
time, recommend to the Commission modifications in the definition of the services that are
supported by Federal universal service support mechanisms.
(3) Special services: In addition to the services included in the
definition of universal service under paragraph (1), the Commission may designate
additional services for such support mechanisms for schools, libraries, and health care
providers for the purposes of subsection (h).
(d) Telecommunications Carrier Contribution: Every
telecommunications carrier that provides interstate telecommunications services shall
contribute, on an equitable and nondiscriminatory basis, to the specific, predictable, and
sufficient mechanisms established by the Commission to preserve and advance universal
service. The Commission may exempt a carrier or class of carriers from this requirement if
the carrier's telecommunications activities are limited to such an extent that the level
of such carrier's contribution to the preservation and advancement of universal service
would be de minimis. Any other provider of interstate telecommunications may be required
to contribute to the preservation and advancement of universal service if the public
interest so requires.
(e) Universal Service Support: After the date on which Commission
regulations implementing this section take effect, only an eligible telecommunications
carrier designated under section 214(e) shall be eligible to receive specific Federal
universal service support. A carrier that receives such support shall use that support
only for the provision, maintenance, and upgrading of facilities and services for which
the support is intended. Any such support should be explicit and sufficient to achieve the
purposes of this section.
(f) State Authority: A State may adopt regulations not inconsistent
with the Commission's rules to preserve and advance universal service. Every
telecommunications carrier that provides intrastate telecommunications services shall
contribute, on an equitable and nondiscriminatory basis, in a manner determined by the
State to the preservation and advancement of universal service in that State. A State may
adopt regulations to provide for additional definitions and standards to preserve and
advance universal service within that State only to the extent that such regulations adopt
additional specific, predictable, and sufficient mechanisms to support such definitions or
standards that do not rely on or burden Federal universal service support mechanisms.
(g) Interexchange and Interstate Services: Within 6 months after the
date of enactment of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Commission shall adopt rules
to require that the rates charged by providers of interexchange telecommunications
services to subscribers in rural and high cost areas shall be no higher than the rates
charged by each such provider to its subscribers in urban areas. Such rules shall also
require that a provider of interstate interexchange telecommunications services shall
provide such services to its subscribers in each State at rates no higher than the rates
charged to its subscribers in any other State.
(h) Telecommunications Services for Certain Providers:
(1) In general:
(A) Health care providers for rural areas: A telecommunications
carrier shall, upon receiving a bona fide request, provide telecommunications services
which are necessary for the provision of health care services in a State, including
instruction relating to such services, to any public or nonprofit health care provider
that serves persons who reside in rural areas in that State at rates that are reasonably
comparable to rates charged for similar services in urban areas in that State. A
telecommunications carrier providing service under this paragraph shall be entitled to
have an amount equal to the difference, if any, between the rates for services provided to
health care providers for rural areas in a State and the rates for similar services
provided to other customers in comparable rural areas in that State treated as a service
obligation as a part of its obligation to participate in the mechanisms to preserve and
advance universal service.
(B) Educational providers and libraries: All telecommunications
carriers serving a geographic area shall, upon a bona fide request for any of its services
that are within the definition of universal service under subsection (c)(3), provide such
services to elementary schools, secondary schools, and libraries for educational purposes
at rates less than the amounts charged for similar services to other parties. The discount
shall be an amount that the Commission, with respect to interstate services, and the
States, with respect to intrastate services, determine is appropriate and necessary to
ensure affordable access to and use of such services by such entities. A
telecommunications carrier providing service under this paragraph shall--
(i) have an amount equal to the amount of the discount treated as an offset to its
obligation to contribute to the mechanisms to preserve and advance universal service, or
(ii) notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (e) of this section, receive
reimbursement utilizing the support mechanisms to preserve and advance universal service.
(2) Advanced services: The Commission shall establish competitively
(A) to enhance, to the extent technically feasible and economically reasonable, access
to advanced telecommunications and information services for all public and nonprofit
elementary and secondary school classrooms, health care providers, and libraries; and
(B) to define the circumstances under which a telecommunications carrier may be
required to connect its network to such public institutional telecommunications users.
(3) Terms and conditions: Telecommunications services and network
capacity provided to a public institutional telecommunications user under this subsection
may not be sold, resold, or otherwise transferred by such user in consideration for money
or any other thing of value.
(4) Eligibility of users: No entity listed in this subsection shall be
entitled to preferential rates or treatment as required by this subsection, if such entity
operates as a for-profit business, is a school described in paragraph (5)(A) with an
endowment of more than $50,000,000, or is a library not eligible for participation in
State-based plans for funds under title III of the Library Services and Construction Act
(20 U.S.C. 335c et seq.).
(5) Definitions: For purposes of this subsection:
(A) Elementary and secondary schools: The term 'elementary and
secondary schools' means elementary schools and secondary schools, as defined in
paragraphs (14) and (25), respectively, of section 14101 of the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 8801).
(B) Health care provider: The term 'health care provider' means--
(i) post-secondary educational institutions offering health care instruction, teaching
hospitals, and medical schools;
(ii) community health centers or health centers providing health care to migrants;
(iii) local health departments or agencies;
(iv) community mental health centers;
(v) not-for-profit hospitals;
(vi) rural health clinics; and
(vii) consortia of health care providers consisting of one or more entities described
in clauses (i) through (vi).
(C) Public institutional telecommunications user: The term 'public
institutional telecommunications user' means an elementary or secondary school, a library,
or a health care provider as those terms are defined in this paragraph.
(i) Consumer Protection: The Commission and the States should ensure
that universal service is available at rates that are just, reasonable, and affordable.
(ii) Lifeline Assistance: Nothing in this section shall affect the
collection, distribution, or administration of the Lifeline Assistance Program provided
for by the Commission under regulations set forth in section 69.117 of title 47, Code of
Federal Regulations, and other related sections of such title.
(k) Subsidy of Competitive Services Prohibited: A telecommunications
carrier may not use services that are not competitive to subsidize services that are
subject to competition. The Commission, with respect to interstate services, and the
States, with respect to intrastate services, shall establish any necessary cost allocation
rules, accounting safeguards, and guidelines to ensure that services included in the
definition of universal service bear no more than a reasonable share of the joint and
common costs of facilities used to provide those services.