In many countries, the Universal Service Fund (USF) is a tool used by the government to fund projects that increase access to telecommunication services in remote and underprivileged areas. These funds are often collected annually from contributions by telecommunications providers, which are typically computed based on their annual revenue (for example, 0.5-1% of their annual customer sales). In August 2000, under Law No. 9.998, Brazil established its own USF named Fundo de Universalização do Serviço de Telecomunicações (FUST).
However, after nearly twenty years, the FUST had never disbursed any of the collected funds to support connectivity projects. The key hindrance was a restrictive law in which the funds could only be allocated to landlines or fixed telephony – a technology that has since become almost obsolete. The COVID-19 pandemic brought additional scrutiny to the FUST and, as a result, numerous stakeholders, including UNICEF Brazil, advocated for its restructuring.
The advocacy was successful, and in November 2020, the Senate approved Bill 172/2020, which reformed the FUST to help ensure the collected funds are more effectively allocated and are appropriately used to expand telecommunications services in the country. The Bill also required 18% of the FUST’s annual collections to be set aside specifically for connecting public schools to the Internet, creating a sustainable solution for school connectivity.