Universal Service Fund Reform: Specifying a Fiber Optic Infrastructure

October 24, 2011, By George Lang

In line with the goals of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the FCC has recently announced important reforms to its 1997 Universal Service Fund legislation designed to bankroll improvements in broadband infrastructure to rural areas, poor communities, and high cost of living regions nationwide. Additionally, the change to funding strategies, referred to here as Universal Service Fund Reform (USFR), allocates funding for the national health-care system for data entry and accessibility improvements, and will also fund broadband improvements to educational institutions.

These planned reforms fall short, however, of specifying the broadband technologies to be implemented (e.g., coaxial, fiber optic, and/or wireless infrastructure). Proposed legislative measures currently in congress include H.R. 5828, more commonly known as the Universal Service Reform Act of 2010, which would fund the building of a broadband infrastructure, but totally ignores any specification of which technology that infrastructure should embrace.

Whereas the privatization strategies of NASA’s new space program save taxpayer dollars by reusing existing Space Shuttle solid rocket booster engines, the fast-paced telecommunications industry will require far more drastic reform measures in order to enable long-term efficacy for a critical nationwide IT communication infrastructure. Existing coaxial technologies (i.e., cable-modem) provide far less potential bandwidth than do fiber optics, and wireless broadband satellite is slow and less cost effective; therefore, it is crucial for legislators to specify fiber optics for all hard-wired USFR allocations.

Leaving it to low-bid, private contractors to determine infrastructure strategies is like allowing the baby sitter to determine what to feed your infant child—not an option; and why is it that overseas countries like New Zealand can economically consider secondary trans-oceanic fiber optic lines in an effort to avoid low bandwidth caps for their customers, but US carriers can’t even deliver fiber landlines to rural Montana?

Long-term growth for a nationwide telecommunication strategy must leave no doubt in the process of providing future United States bandwidth superiority. Installed hardwire infrastructure must be second-to-none in order to compete for bandwidth internationally, and to avoid having to redo the system five years down the road. It must also allow for long-term systemic growth.

Fiber optics is the only rational choice for efficiently implementing infrastructure reform, and USF government legislation must not leave the technology unspecified. By the way, a huge secondary benefit will be the thousands of new jobs created by infrastructure installation requirements.

Photo fromFlickr. Credit: Hkuchera

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