Connect America Fund order seeks to expand reach of high-speed Internet service

As of Nov. 18, the FCC has released a series of reforms intended to make universal access to high-speed Internet and voice services available to consumers throughout the nation.

Dubbed the “Connect America Fund,” or CAF, the reforms aim to promote modernization of the nation’s communications infrastructure and bring broadband Internet services to 18 million people who currently don’t have access. The FCC’s Connect America Fund order overhauls the agency’s decades-old universal service and intercarrier compensation systems.

The annual budget for the new fund is set at no more than $4.5 billion annually, the same as the current universal service funding level. According to a commission press statement announcing CAF, the new annual expenditure is expected to help connect 7 million people in rural America to high-speed Internet and voice service.

The order also establishes a new Mobility Fund to expand mobile broadband nationwide to tens of thousands of road miles. According to the order, the new Mobility Fund will be rolled out in phases. In the first phase, the fund will provide one-time support via a reverse auction budgeted at $300 million. The order envisions the auction being held in 2012 and support beginning to flow no later than 2013. A total of $50 million will be designated for advanced mobile services on Tribal lands. The second phase of the Mobility Fund will provide ongoing support for mobile services.

The order also phases down charges for the exchange of voice traffic among carriers—known as intercarrier compensation—and transitions to a simplified, uniform bill-and-keep framework. Intercarrier compensation reform will provide benefits to all Americans through improved service and lower costs, the press statement said.

The rules adopted as part of the reforms should take effect by Jan. 1, 2012.