Wicker, Capito, Young Introduce Bill to Explore Collecting USF Contributions from Big Tech

July 21, 2021

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., and Todd Young, R-Ind., today 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. 

“More consumers are moving to internet-based services,” said Wicker. “This raises concerns about the sustainability of fees collected from consumers’ telephone bills, which support broadband deployment in underserved areas. As online platforms continue to dominate the internet landscape, we should consider the feasibility of Big Tech contributing to the USF to ensure rural areas are not left behind as we work to close the digital divide.”

“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,” 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.”

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; and
  • The changes to current law necessary to implement this system. 

Click here for the bill.

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.