High Cost

Step 1 Become an ETC

To participate in the High Cost Program, telecommunications carriers must be designated as eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) by their state regulatory commissions or, in some cases, by the FCC. After being designated, ETCs must meet all program requirements.

Carriers that have relinquished their designation must notify USAC immediately. Email the relinquishment order to hcorders@usac.org. If you have questions, please call 888-641-8722.

State ETC Designation

States have primary responsibility for designating carriers as ETCs. Carriers should contact their state utility regulator to determine how to initiate the ETC designation process in their state.

Non-State ETC Designation

In some instances, a carrier on non-Tribal lands is not under any state's jurisdiction. In this case, the carrier must apply to the FCC for ETC designation. Likewise, carriers on Tribal lands are not under state jurisdiction and must also apply directly to the FCC for ETC designation. Read below for specific directions on applying to the FCC:

  • Non-State ETC Designation – Non-Tribal Lands
    A carrier seeking ETC designation on non-Tribal lands must first consult with its state utility regulator to see if the carrier falls within the state's ETC jurisdiction. If not, the carrier may petition the FCC for designation, providing an affirmative statement from the state utility regulator to that effect. The petition must reference CC Docket 96-45. The FCC will resolve all designation requests for non-Tribal lands within six months of the date filed.
  • Non-State ETC Designation – Tribal Lands
    A carrier seeking ETC designation on Tribal lands may directly petition the FCC for designation without first seeking designation from a state utility regulator. The carrier must explain that its assertion is not subject to a state regulator's jurisdiction and bears the burden of proving that assertion. To make its case, a carrier should provide fact-specific support and relevant case law, statutes, and treaties. In considering a carrier's petition, the FCC will consider any statements and analysis the Tribal authority might provide regarding the carrier's request for designation and the state regulator's exercise of jurisdiction.

The FCC's Designation Process

When a carrier files a petition directly with the FCC, it must provide copies of its petition to the affected state utility regulator at the same time. The FCC will release a public notice establishing a pleading cycle for comments on the petition. Based on the evidence in the record, the FCC will first make a jurisdictional determination. If the FCC determines that the state regulator lacks jurisdiction, it will decide the merits of the request within six months of the jurisdictional decision. If the company fails to meet its burden of proof that it is not subject to the state regulator's jurisdiction, the FCC will dismiss the request and direct the company to seek ETC designation from its state utility regulator.

An ETC that is designated by the FCC must (Report and Order FCC 05-46):

  • Provide a five-year plan showing how High Cost Program support will be used to improve its coverage, service quality, or capacity in each wire center where it seeks designation;
  • Demonstrate its ability to remain functional in emergency situations;
  • Demonstrate that it will satisfy consumer protection and service quality standards;
  • Offer local usage plans comparable to those offered by the incumbent carrier in the areas for which it seeks designation; and
  • Acknowledge that it may be required to provide equal access if all other ETCs in the designated service area relinquish their designations.

State commissions are encouraged to adopt similar requirements of state designed ETCs. See Section C of the FCC's rules for more information on ETC designation by the FCC.

ETC Designation Relinquishment

If an ETC has discontinued its operations, it should take steps to relinquish its ETC designation with the state public utility commission (PUC) or the FCC, as appropriate. A state PUC or the FCC permits an ETC to relinquish its ETC designation in any area served by more than one ETC.

How to Relinquish ETC Designation
  1. Notify PUC's or FCC
    • An ETC that was designated by the PUCs in the states that it serves must give each relevant state PUC advance notice of its intent to relinquish and should contact the relevant state PUCs to determine the relinquishment procedures for each state.
    • An ETC that was designated by the FCC must file a notice of relinquishment in WC Docket No. 09-197 using the Electronic Comment Filing System and should identify the other ETCs that offer service in its service area. The Wireline Competition Bureau will release an order approving the relinquishment if the relinquishing ETC has demonstrated that the affected area will continue to be served by at least one ETC.
  2. Notify USAC. The ETC must send a copy of its relinquishment notice to USAC at hcorders@usac.org.

Carriers are reminded that all ETCs are required to:

  1. Certify on an annual basis that the High Cost Universal Service support they receive has been and will be used to provide, maintain, and upgrade voice and/or broadband facilities and services in eligible areas; and
  2. Offer the services that are supported by the relevant support mechanism throughout their service area and advertise the availability of such services.

It is a violation of FCC rules to receive support from the Universal Service Fund, if that support is not used to provide, maintain, and upgrade voice and/or broadband facilities and services in eligible areas or if the recipient is no longer offering supported services.