At a hearing conducted before the House Communications, Technology & Internet subcommittee, lawmakers offered contrasting viewpoints on whether the high-cost portion of the universal service fund (USF) should also cover broadband service. USF reform was the topic of discussion at last Thursday’s hearing, which was attended by representatives of AT&T, Verizon Wireless, rural carrier Embarq, and consumer advocacy group Free Press. Subcommittee chairman Rick Boucher (D-VA)—a sponsor of USF reform legislation in past congressional sessions— asserted that the USF should be expanded to cover broadband deployment and that such a tenet would be added to a USF reform measure that he plans to introduce with Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) as co-sponsor. Noting, “we have consulted with dozens of stakeholders and sought consensus among various competing interests,” Boucher said the bill would also stipulate that USF payments be based on the actual cost of building service and would include provisions to improve accountability and reduce waste, fraud and abuse. Boucher questioned whether the $7.2 billion in economic stimulus funding approved for broadband expansion should factor into any decision to include broadband coverage in the USF. Ranking subcommittee member Cliff Stearns (R-FL) and other Republicans, however, counseled patience, suggesting: “rather than add new broadband requirements . . . we should engage in oversight and evaluation” of the stimulus act program and its effectiveness in expanding broadband to unserved areas before earmarking USF funds for broadband. While agreeing that the high-cost USF program should promote broadband deployment, AT&T public policy vice president Joel Lubin recommended a competitive bidding process to bring broadband service to unserved areas through which “providers would receive a precise amount of [USF] support and in exchange would commit to serving the area.” Lubin also stressed that any proposal to add broadband coverage to the USF should be linked with efforts to reform the intercarrier compensation system. Free Press research director Derek Turner, meanwhile, argued for a complete transformation of the USF high cost program, the goal of which “should no longer be the maintenance of basic telephone service in rural America,” but should be “achieving universal deployment of affordable broadband infrastructure.”