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From universal service to universal connectivity


Two features of the century-old policy goal of promoting universal telephone service in the United States have been enduring. Policymakers have focused on (1) wireline telephone (and more recently, fixed-line broadband) services and (2) households. The widespread adoption of mobile telephones compels a fresh examination of this focus. We construct a new measure of universal connectivity which accounts for consumers’ choices of communications technologies and for their geographic mobility over the course of the day. This measure, in turn, compels a conceptual and empirical investigation of the determinants of mobile telephone diffusion within families. Our estimations of intra-household demand for mobile service permit us to develop simulations that estimate the economic impact of modernizing a key element of existing universal service policy (viz., the Lifeline Program) to reflect the goal of improving individual connectivity. We find that a policy expansion from a single subsidy per household to multiple subsidies per eligible household members would increase mobile subscriptions by 2.25 million and Lifeline costs by $250 million.

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