The four Universal Service Fund programs help connect Tribal communities to phone and broadband services by working at the infrastructure, community, and individual level.
Schools and Libraries (E-rate) Program
The E-rate Program provides funding towards eligible services for schools and libraries to keep students and library patrons connected to broadband.
- Tribal Trainings. The E-rate Program offers supplemental support for applicants located on Tribal lands or serving Tribal patrons.
- Eligible State/Tribal Funding. For Tribal schools and libraries, E-rate will match funding from states, Tribal governments, or other federal agencies. In all cases, E-rate matching funds will only be approved if the special construction project will provide high-speed broadband connections that meet the FCC’s connectivity targets adopted in the E-rate Modernization Order and may not be applied to any other cost.
- Tribal Definition. An E-rate applicant may self-identify as a Tribal entity in the application system if the majority of students or library patrons served are Tribal members; the entity is located partially or entirely on Tribal land; the entity is a school operated by or receiving funding from the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE); or the entity is a school or library operated by a Tribal Nation.
The Lifeline Program lowers the monthly cost of phone and internet for eligible subscribers.
- Tribal Lands Enhanced Benefit. The Lifeline Program offers a monthly benefit of up to $34.25 towards phone or internet services for eligible subscribers living on Tribal lands.
- Link Up Reimbursement. Subscribers residing on federally recognized Tribal lands are eligible for Link Up. Link Up can reimburse the full cost of initiating service with certain phone companies at a primary residence, up to $100. If the cost of initiating service is more than $100, the company will provide a no-interest payment plan for up to $200 for up to one year.
- Tribal Toolkit. The Tribal Toolkit is a compilation of educational resources about the Lifeline Program for Tribal consumers. It includes a copy of the Tribal Flyer for subscribers living on Tribal lands and media tools for raising awareness about the Lifeline Program.
- Tribal Lands Definition. The definition for “Tribal lands” used by the Lifeline Program is found in 47 CFR 54.400(e), which states that “For purposes of this subpart, ‘Tribal lands’ include any federally recognized Indian tribe’s reservation, pueblo, or colony, including former reservations in Oklahoma; Alaska Native regions established pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (85 Stat. 688); Indian allotments; Hawaiian Home Lands – areas held in trust for Native Hawaiians by the state of Hawaii, pursuant to the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, 1920 July 9, 1921, 42 Stat. 108, seq., as amended; and any land designated as such by the Commission for purposes of this subpart pursuant to the designation process in § 54.412.”
High Cost Program
The High Cost Program provides funding to telecommunications carriers to deliver service in rural areas that might otherwise go unserved. While the program has historically subsidized voice service to ensure that rates in rural and urban areas are reasonably comparable, the FCC is modernizing the program to support broadband with the Connect America Fund (CAF). The CAF aims to close the digital divide in rural America by requiring carriers to meet defined broadband build-out obligations with a series of modernized funds that rely on incentive-based models to give carriers a set amount of support to build out broadband to a certain number of locations.
- Tribal Engagement Reporting. Eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) that receive High Cost support must complete the Tribal reporting section of FCC Form 481 when they submit their annual Form 481 filing every July. All ETCs that receive High Cost support (with the exception of carriers that receive Mobility Fund Phase I support only) must file FCC Form 481, which collects financial and operations information used to validate carrier funding, on an annual basis. As part of this annual filing process, ETCs that serve Tribal lands must submit information about their engagement with Tribal governments, including details on deployment to Tribal community anchor institutions, culturally sensitive approaches to marketing and compliance with rights of way processes, land use permitting requirements, cultural preservation review processes, Tribal licensing requirements, and other obligations. For more information, see details about Tribal lands reporting in the OMB-approved FCC Form 481 Instructions on the High Cost website.
- Request Tribal Access to Form 481. Tribal governments can access the annual FCC Form 481 filing submitted by ETCs that serve their lands with support from the High Cost Program through the online 54.314 Certification Filing System. In order to obtain access privileges to the 54.314 system, Tribal governments should contact the High Cost Program at Form481@usac.org to request an authorization form. Once granted access, Tribal officials will be able to log in to the 54.314 system and view Form 481 data filed by the carriers serving their lands.
- Tribal Land Definition. For the purposes of High Cost support, “Tribal lands” include “any federally recognized Indian tribe’s reservation, pueblo, or colony, including former reservations in Oklahoma, Alaska Native regions established pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (85 Stat. 688) and Indian Allotments, see § 54.400(e), as well as Hawaiian Home Lands – areas held in trust for native Hawaiians by the state of Hawaii, pursuant to the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, 1920, July 9, 1921, 42 Stat 108, et seq., as amended.”
(See 47 CFR 54.5 Terms and definitions.)
Rural Health Care (RHC) Program
The Rural Health Care (RHC) Program provides funding to eligible health care providers (HCPs) to reduce the cost of telehealth broadband and telecom services. RHC has two primary programs: the Healthcare Connect Fund (HCF) Program and the Telecommunications (Telecom) Program. New health care providers (HCPs) should make informed decisions about the program(s) they apply to participate in. HCPs can apply to participate in both programs but cannot receive funding for the same circuit in each program.
The Connected Care Pilot Program is a new three-year program that will serve nonprofit and public eligible health care providers located in rural or non-rural areas. The FCC will begin accepting applications later this year, and will provide application procedure and timing details. To prepare to submit an application, HCPs can take steps now to obtain an eligibility determination by filing an FCC Form 460 with USAC. The Connected Care Pilot Program focuses on supporting pilot projects that primarily benefit low-income Americans and Veterans. The three explicit goals for the program are to:
- improve health outcomes through connected care,
- reduce health care costs for patients, facilities, and the health care system, and
- support the trend toward connected care everywhere.
HCP sites that USAC has already deemed eligible to participate in the FCC’s Rural Health Care Program, or COVID19 Telehealth Program, may rely on that eligibility determination for the Connected Care Pilot Program.
- Tribally Operated Health Care Facility Requirement. If the health care facility is a contract facility run solely by a Tribal nation, the appropriate Tribal leader, such as a Tribal chairperson, president, governor, or chief, must also sign the Letter of Agency (LOA), unless health care responsibilities have been delegated to another Tribal government representative.
See RHC Program Videos for more information.
For more information, email the USAC Tribal Liaison.