WASHINGTON, June 21 -- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has launched an inquiry into the management, administration and oversight of the federal Universal Service Fund (USF), which helps provide affordable phone service in rural areas, fund Internet access and telecommunications equipment and services in schools and libraries, bring telemedicine services to rural areas and assist low-income families with their phone bills.
The commission said its goals are to improve the operation of the program, for both its beneficiaries and contributors, and to enhance the program's integrity. It said the inquiry will enable it to determine whether it needs to change any rules in order to manage and administer the USF more effectively while deterring waste, fraud and abuse.
Since 1997, the Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC), which administers the USD, has disbursed approximately $30.3 billion from the fund.
The FCC is seeking comment on ways to simplify and streamline the management of the USF, on the effectiveness of existing efforts to protect the fund against potential misuse, on establishing independent audits for certain USF beneficiaries and contributors and on establishing rules for recovering USF funds that were not used according to program rules.
The commission said it is also examining the effectiveness of the existing administrative structure and seeks comment on whether any rule changes are needed to ensure the USF is administered in an effective, "competitively neutral" way and on establishing performance measures to assess the effectiveness of the program.
For more information, visit: www.fcc.gov