A4AI is pleased to share with you our new paper, “Universal Access and Service Funds in the Broadband Era: The Collective Investment Imperative.”
This study — the first in a series of thematic briefings and papers analysing key issues and priority areas for A4AI and our national coalitions — offers a summary perspective on the issues surrounding the development, use, and sustainability of Universal Service and Access Funds (USAFs), particularly in the context of broadband development initiatives.
USAFs are a mechanism used to reallocate funds to support ICT/telecom development and use in underserved areas and among unconnected populations. USAFs are typically financed through mandatory financial contributions from a country’s telecommunications operators; these funds are then used to support targeted sector investments and subsidies for geographic areas and populations (e.g., rural areas, low-income groups, etc.) that have often been overlooked or avoided by those same operators due to low-profit expectations.
Universal access to affordable broadband services is a goal that lies at the heart of A4AI’s work, and is one that has received significant attention in recent years — governments, private sector entities, and civil society organisations alike have recognised the central role of ICT and Internet access to the achievement of global economic and social development goals. This issue has become particularly important in developing and emerging economies. USAFs represent a fundamentally different policy approach than the business taxation and government expenditure approaches that are traditionally used, and serve as a kind of “collective investment” vehicle for the telecommunications industry as a whole, rather than a social welfare redistribution of private income. USAFs provide a mechanism for ensuring that sector firms make a shared contribution in market development that will ultimately benefit all.
As more countries develop and work to implement comprehensive national broadband strategies, we take a closer look at the opportunities — and challenges — posed by the use of USAFs to spur broadband infrastructure and market growth, and to bring rural, poor and other underserved populations online. This paper shares a number of case studies and further examines some of the key questions surrounding the appropriate role that USAFs can play, and clarifies the capacity-building and collaborative support that most USAFs require to perform effectively.
Image credit: The OLPC laptop being introduced to Children in Haiti, One Laptop Per Child (Image from Wikimedia under Creative Commons license)