(Glastonbury, Conn.) Today, the Marketing Research Association (MRA) called upon Congress to alleviate the negative impact of the Universal Service Fund (USF) on the business of telephone survey and opinion research. The House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet held a hearing today on USF reform and debated whether and how to update, expand and pay for the programs it funds.

The Universal Service Fund (USF) serves a variety of programs for rural and low-income telecommunications, paid for by fees assessed on telecom companies, which the companies then pass through to telephone users. The USF 'Contribution Factor' is the percentage of interstate End User revenue that telecom companies must pay, and changes quarterly depending on the needs of the programs. In the second quarter of 2000, the fee was 5.7%. It has since grown to 12.3% (proposed for the fourth quarter of 2009).

"MRA opposes the imposition of the USF fee as a pass-through charge to telephone users – the equivalent of a tax on telephone survey and opinion research,' said Howard Fienberg, Director of Government Affairs for MRA.

"We appreciate the efforts of Subcommittee members like Ranking Member Joe Barton (R-TX) and Cliff Stearns (R-FL) to limit the growth of the USF. While busy negotiating with telecom providers and subsidy recipients, we hope that the Subcommittee will not forget the needs of major telephone users, who face unpredictable and rising fees."

MRA has advocated for several years to make the determination of the 'Contribution Factor' an annual change instead of the current quarterly one, which will allow for telephone users to better prepare for the costs on their phone bills. The quarterly changes can be quite drastic, and make it exceedingly difficult for telephone consumers to account for in their own annual budgeting.

The dramatic fluctuations in the USF fee may have minimal impact on an ordinary user's phone bill. However, on the bill of a survey and opinion research company that does a considerable amount of interstate calling to conduct its surveys, those changes can be dramatic (and, in some cases, catastrophic) – and make it next to impossible to set budgets and set a cost structure for research.