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High Cost, the largest of the four programs that make up the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Universal Service Fund (USF), ensures universal availability of essential telecommunications services in rural America. The program distributes billions of dollars in funding annually to carriers to deliver voice and broadband service—both fixed and mobile—in rural areas where the market alone cannot support the substantial cost of deploying network infrastructure and providing connectivity. Carriers that receive funding must provide service at rates reasonably comparable to those available in urban areas. See the High Cost Disbursement Search Tool for information about the dollar amounts paid to carriers that receive High Cost support.

Legacy Voice Funds

Historically, the High Cost program has subsidized voice service to ensure universal access to basic phone lines through legacy funds that calculate support based on carrier costs. While legacy High Cost funds are not open to new carriers, they continue to pay out support to traditional rural telephone companies certified as eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs).

Modernized Broadband Funds

Over the past decade, through the Connect America Fund (CAF), the FCC has reformed the High Cost program to bring advanced communications networks and reliable, high-speed Internet access to rural communities that might otherwise be stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide. The Connect America Fund consists of a nearly a dozen modernized funds that rely on mainly on incentive-based models and competitive bidding to give carriers a fixed amount of support to deploy and maintain high-quality broadband networks with certain speeds over a clear timeline —with interim and final deployment milestone deadlines —to a defined number of locations in eligible areas. With modernization, the FCC has expanded carrier participation to include not only traditional rural phone companies, but also rural electric cooperatives, cable operators, wireless operators, wireless Internet service providers, and satellite providers. See the Connect America Fund (CAF) Map to find the specific fixed locations where carriers have built out broadband using CAF support.

Participating in High Cost

The process for participating in the High Cost program—as well as the service obligations, network speed requirements, deployment timelines and reporting rules that carriers must meet—vary from fund to fund. See the High Cost Funds pages for information about the specific mandates established by the FCC for each of the legacy and modernized funds that make up the High Cost program and the Connect America Fund. Each fund has its own webpage intended to serve as a starting point for carriers participating in that specific program. Key reporting, filing, and certification requirements include:

Contact Us

For questions about the High Cost program, call (844) 357-0408 or email hcquestions@usac.org.