Telecommunications companies providing interstate phone service -- whether wireline, wireless, or purely voice-over-Internet-protocol (VOIP) -- must contribute to pay for the Fund. Most companies pass their contribution costs through to customers as a percentage of their usage. The USF "Contribution Factor (http://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/contribution-factor-quarterly-filings-universal-service-fund-usf-management-support)," which is the percentage of the interstate end-user revenue that telecommunications providers must pay, changes quarterly, depending on the needs of the USF programs, as determined by the
In the second quarter of 2000, the USF fee was 5.7 percent, but has since grown dramatically (and erratically). The high point of 17.9 percent in the first quarter of 2012 has subsided a bit to to the current rate of 15.7 percent for the third quarter of 2014.
USF and the impact on research
Telephone research is still widely used in research, even as it struggles under the burdens of a growing wireless-only and wireless-mostly population and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) restrictions on using an autodialer to call a cell phone without express prior consent (http://www.marketingresearch.org/tcpa-restrictions-on-using-autodialers-to-call-cell-phones). That is why MRA continues to oppose the imposition of USF payments as a pass-through charge to telephone users.
Although MRA remains agnostic on the USF itself, we support efforts to limit the growth of the fund and the programs it serves, because such an unfair proportion of the cost in the funding arrangement falls directly on our membership.
MRA also advocates making the determination of the "Contribution Factor" an annual change instead of the current quarterly one, which would allow telephone users to better prepare for the costs on their phone bills. The quarterly changes can be quite jarring, and make it exceedingly difficult for subscribers to account for in their own annual budgeting.
Changes coming to the USF
Because they can pass the cost on to customers, telecommunications providers don't sweat these changes too much. Internet service providers, in their various forms, may or may not feel the same way. As FCC Commissioner
Regardless, the research profession identifies the USF fees as a real problem. This anachronistic federal program is driving up the cost of telephone research.
The dramatic fluctuations in the USF fee may have a minimal impact on an ordinary phone subscriber's bill, but for a company or organization conducting telephone research -- or the many more companies, organizations and governments purchasing that research -- those changes can be drastic. Quarterly changes make it next to impossible to budget and set a cost structure for research. This is why MRA advocates that the USF fee determination should at least be changed only annually (http://www.marketingresearch.org/universal-service-fees-and-telephone-research).
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