Use the USF

by Colin Berkshire

Why don’t we use the Universal Service Fund to build cellular towers in every black spot area? There is more than enough money.

France is doing something interesting: They are eliminating all black spots in cellular coverage as a matter of national policy.

I think eliminating black spots is a valid national goal. It would save lives.

Here is how we could do it…

Anybody could file a “black spot tower application”. The carrier who owns the frequency in this area would be put on notice that they have 30 days to commit to building a tower to serve the black spot. (After all, the carriers certainly had years to choose to build out the area and reasonably forfeited their rights.) If the carrier won’t make the commitment within 30 days to fill in the black spot then the carrier would be deemed to have forfeited their frequency license in this area and it would be awarded to the applicant.

Black spot areas are certainly higher cost lower usage areas. That’s where the Universal Service Fund (USF) kicks in. Black spot tower operators would be paid a per minute and per-gigabyte fee out of the Universal Service Fund. Plus, they would get a flat-rate fee based on the square mileage that they served. Perhaps the carriers would kick in some money, but that may be a difficult political goal since some carriers [cough] Verizon [cough] seem to actually be reducing their tower footprint to save bucks.

I think it is important to have coverage coast-to-coast. This is the original concept behind “Universal Service” as coined by Theodore Newton Vail, the founder of the Bell System. He understood that coverage should be everywhere, and that some areas just don’t make economic sense, but for the good of the whole they must be served. The Universal Service program was established to help subsidize the black-spot telephone companies so that there could be universal coverage.

Oh, and as a condition of being granted a franchise area, phone companies were obligated to serve all of that area, no matter what the cost. So a cellular company should be required to serve all of the area where they have frequency licenses or else forfeit those areas.

It just makes sense.