Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said Monday (March 22) that he will soon reintroduce a bill that would eliminate the ETC (eligible telecommunications carrier) requirement for accessing Lifeline broadband subsidies.
Butterfield's pledge came during a hearing on the LIFT America Act infrastructure bill in the House Energy & Commerce Committee and will almost certainly be celebrated by NCTA-the Internet & Television Association.
Butterfield represents a rural North Carolina that desperately needs broadband, but that qualified providers are being discouraged from participating in FCC subsidy programs due to the "outdated" state-by-state ETC reporting requirements.
Butterfield had support from hearing witnesses on both sides of the (former) FCC aisle. Former Democratic FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said the ETC designation no longer made sense and that it was trying to graft phone-era policy on broadband. "It makes no sense to continue ETC as one of the tests."
Former Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly said he supported his last bill, and would do so this time around. He said the burden of ETC is not worth the cost of compliance for many, so they don't participate. O'Rielly pointed out that Congress' Emergency Broadband Benefit subsidy money--over $3 billion--does not have an ETC requirement, and while O'Rielly is no fan of the LIFT bill, pointed out that it had no ETC requirement for its $80 billion in broadband buildout subsidies, either.
O'Rielly said Congress would run into some problems with state regulators, but that it "absolutely" had to eliminated the ETC designation.
Butterfield introduced the Expanding Opportunities for Broadband Deployment Act in 2020. It would give more broadband providers access to the FCC's Universal Service Fund subsidy money to build out high-cost and low-income areas, which are ones where it is sufficiently expensive to provide service that there is no business case for it without those subsidies.
The Expanding Opportunities for Broadband Deployment Act would eliminate the requirement that only ISPs designated eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) can get USF high-cost dollars, something cable operators have been pushing for years.
"By retiring the eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC) designation, more ISPs with a proven track record of operating broadband networks would compete for government support," NCTA said when Butterfield introduced the bill last year.
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