WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Todd Young (R-Ind.) this week introduced the Funding Affordable Internet with Reliable (FAIR) Contributions Act.

The legislation would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to conduct a study into the feasibility of collecting Universal Service Fund (USF) contributions from internet edge providers such as YouTube, Netflix, and Google.

“There’s no question the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need to close the digital divide—whether you’re working from home, finishing school assignments, or in need of a telehealth appointment,” Senator Capito said. “And, while we’ve made progress, we still have a long way to go. As we all know, building out our internet infrastructure is expensive, and we have utilized various sources to pay for it. For too long, Big Tech has been able to profit off of the critical infrastructure used for common day-to-day activities while not helping at a sufficient level to improve those capabilities with broadband investment in states like West Virginia. With communications platforms moving away from telephone networks toward internet heavy platforms, it’s important now more than ever that we start looking at ways that Big Tech can step up and help close the digital divide and secure true universal service for West Virginians. Our legislation is a solid first step in working toward this goal and making this a reality.”

“I applaud Senators Wicker, Capito, and Young for introducing the FAIR Contributions Act,” FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said. “For too long, Big Tech has been enjoying a free ride on our Internet infrastructure. The current funding mechanism for the Universal Service Fund—a regressive tax on the monthly bills for traditional telephone service, both wireless and wireline—is unfair and unsustainable. Indeed, it’s like taxing horseshoes to pay for highways. Requiring Big Tech to contribute is more than fair. It is consistent with the network compact that has prevailed since the earliest days of America’s communications networks. Historically, the businesses that derived the greatest benefit from a communications network paid the lion’s share of the costs. I am pleased that the FAIR Contributions Act would call on the FCC to open a proceeding to look at ending the charge on consumers’ monthly telephone bills and shifting a fair amount over to Big Tech.”

The FAIR Contributions Act would:

  • Direct the FCC to issue a Notice of Inquiry seeking public comment on the feasibility of collecting USF contributions from internet edge providers, and issue a final report on the matter within 180 days.
  • Require the FCC to consider:
  • Possible sources of Big Tech revenue, such as digital advertising and user fees.
  • The fairness of the current system and a system under which contributions could be assessed on Big Tech firms.
  • The feasibility of assessing contributions on such a broad category of firms that do not currently register with the FCC.
  • The effects such a change would have on Tribal, low-income, and elderly consumers.
  • The changes to current law necessary to implement this system.

Through the USF, the FCC disburses approximately $10 billion per year to fund broadband deployment to high-cost rural areas, schools and libraries, rural health care facilities, telehealth services, and broadband subsidies for low-income Americans. The USF collects money from telecommunications carriers, set at a percentage of their interstate and international revenues, which carriers usually pass onto consumers in their monthly bills.

Click here for the full text of the bill.

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