The whole idea of universal service funds was that at least theoretically they are considered to be a more transparent, targeted and efficient means of achieving universal service as compared to cross-subsidies, access deficit charges and roll out obligations.
The Economics Times today reports that USOF, India is considering a reduction in universal service levy for operators that meet roll out targets. This is a flawed approach.
Firstly roll out obligations in Indian licenses do not and cannot ensure that specific rural areas (uncovered/.under-served) will be covered. They generally require coverage of a certain percentage of rural area in the licensed service area or telecom circle and history has shown that the areas covered are those closest to cities/towns. Secondly, mere technical roll out cannot ensure universal individual/household access which requires inter alia affordability or accessibility of connections. A well designed USF scheme can achieve both these objectives.
An overall reduction in Universal Service Levy based on assessed requirement of funds is a different matter but retaining/relying on roll out obligations as a means of achieving universal service when a universal service fund exists is not advisable. It is likely to increase the government’s regulatory and administrative burden while defeating the purpose of the Fund.