A1: Universal service is the principle that all Americans should have access to a baseline level of telecommunications services. This principle is the cornerstone of the Communications Act of 1934, which established universal service in legislation and also created the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Since that time, universal service policies have helped make telephone service ubiquitous, even in rural areas. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 (1996 Telecom Act) expanded the scope of universal service to include increased, affordable access to both telecommunications and advanced services, such as high-speed Internet, for all consumers. More specifically, the law adopted explicit goals to guide the implementation of universal service policies. These goals include:
A2: The universal service fund is money collected from telecommunications companies and dedicated to fulfilling the goals of universal service. Telecommunications companies are required to make universal service contributions based on earned revenue. Under the authority of the 1996 Telecom Act, the FCC put USAC in charge of administering the collection and disbursement of universal service funds. In 2014, universal service disbursements totaled $7.8 billion.
A3: The universal service programs are mechanisms for providing funding to organizations or companies eligible for support. These beneficiaries help fulfill the goals of universal service of providing affordable access to telecommunications services for all Americans.
Below are brief descriptions of each program, along with 2013 levels of universal service funding:
A4: As required by the 1996 Telecom Act, telecommunications carriers providing international and interstate service and earning above certain revenue thresholds make universal service contributions. Consumers may notice a universal service line item on their telephone bills. This line represents a charge by a telephone company to recover its FCC-mandated universal service contributions.
A5: Universal service collections: All telecommunications carriers that provide international and interstate service make universal service contributions. The amounts of these contributions are determined by projections of the aggregate demand for universal service support, which USAC submits each quarter to the FCC. The FCC reviews these projections and determines the percentage of international and interstate revenues that carriers must contribute.
Universal service contributions fund the High Cost, Lifeline, Rural Health Care, and Schools and Libraries Programs. Entities eligible for support from these programs submit information to USAC for processing and evaluation, leading to disbursement of universal service support to those approved for funding.
How program participants claim support in each of the programs:
A6: USAC is an independent, not-for-profit corporation designated by the FCC as the administrator of the universal service fund.
A7: USAC's mission is to collect and distribute universal service funds. USAC administers the four universal service programs in accordance with the FCC's rules, orders, and directives. USAC does not set or advocate policy. USAC works to protect the integrity of universal service, promote compliance among program participants, and provide information about universal service to Congress, the FCC, program audiences, and the general public. In all of these tasks, USAC strives to provide efficient, responsible stewardship of the programs; a key national asset in making important telecommunications services and broadband access available to consumers, health care providers, schools, and libraries throughout the United States.
Since its creation in 1998 through December 2014, USAC has disbursed over $106 billion to support the goals of universal service and to help keep Americans connected. USAC performs a wide range of complex, large-scale operations. See highlights for 2014 on the Annual Reports pages.
NOTE: USAC is the neutral administrator of the universal service programs. USAC may not make policy, interpret unclear provisions of the statute or rules, interpret the intent of Congress, or advocate policy positions before the FCC or its staff, but may advocate positions on administrative issues related to universal service programs.
A8: Below are the four universal service programs' unaudited approved disbursement totals for 2014.
|2014 Disbursements (unaudited)||$106 billion|
|High Cost||$3.7 billion|
|Rural Health Care||$192 million|
|Schools and Libraries||$2.2 billion|
A10: You can view annual reports, brochures, glossaries of terms, newsletters, tip sheets and other materials about the four universal service programs in the "About USAC" section of our website under "Publications."