Access fees – Fees paid by non-rural telephone companies to rural telephone companies who own the actual telephone wirelines that service rural areas. Non-rural telephone companies must pay the fees to compensate the rural companies that own the wireline for use of their lines. For example, if you live in a city and are calling your grandmother in who lives in a small rural town, the company that owns the wires that serve your telephone must pay the company that owns the wires that serve your grandmother’s telephone because your company is making and completing the call. These access fees were originally created as a way to help subsidize rural phone service. Back in the day, rural phone service was so expensive to build out that no company would build unless they received financial help to do so.

Broadband – Refers to Internet access that allows for higher speeds and more traffic delivered , which is made possible through the greater signal bandwidth of broadband technology.

Distance Learning – Also sometimes referred to as “online learning”, distance learning is an educational system whereby students learn, receive information and participate in the learning process via the Internet and not in the traditional, physical setting of a school room.  Schools that offer online degrees are one example.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – The government agency that oversees the communications industry and is charged with “regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable.”  (

Intercarrier compensation – Intercarrier compensation is the system of one telephone provider (Company A) paying another telephone provider (Company B) for use of the latter’s telephone lines. For example, while a phone call may start in one location on one telephone companies wires (Company A), it may not be carried or end on wires owned by that company. So the telephone company (Company A) must pay whichever company owns the wires (Company B) on which the phone call was carried or ended.

Net Neutrality – The concept that all data and voice traffic over the Internet is carried equally without discrimination, regardless of size, application or content of the traffic, and that all Internet users have equal access to lawful Internet content, regardless of size, content or application.  In December 2010 the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules meant to ensure Net Neutrality.

Smart Grid – Refers to the technology of managing electricity networks over digital technologies.  Utilizing digital technologies, a smart grid can control appliances in a consumers’ home by sensing and measuring the energy consumption, relaying that information to the electrical grid.  It allows appliances to “talk” to the traditional electrical grid and let it know it know when more or less electricity is needed.  It is a method that will save money and reduce energy consumption.  One example of its application would be washers and dryers that turn on during off-peak hours when power is less expensive.

Smart Meter – Similar to a smart grid, a smart meter is a meter that measures consumption of a utility and relays that information to the billing system via a communications network, allowing for remote reporting and billing of energy.

Spectrum – In communications, spectrum refers to the natural resource of radio frequencies over which wireless communications can operate.  In order to provide wireless services to consumers, companies must have access to spectrum to utilize.  The access to spectrum is mediated by the Federal Communications Commission to ensure no interference among usage.

Telehealth/Telemedicine – Refers to health information and services that are delivered over a telecommunications network, typically broadband.  An example could be a patient in a rural area communicating with their doctor via videoconferencing or a hospital in Los Angeles viewing the electronic records of a patient whose records are in a doctor’s office in Des Moines.

Universal Service Fund – A fund into which all telecommunications companies pay in order to provide a source of subsidy for locations to which it is more difficult to provide telecommunications service. The primary goal is to achieve universal service of telecommunications services. For example, rural telephone companies can pull from this fund to provide telephone service to rural areas, as the cost to do so is higher than service to urban areas.

According to the Federal Communications Commission website, the goals of USF are:

  • Promote the availability of quality services at just, reasonable and affordable rates for all consumers
  • Increase nationwide access to advanced telecommunications services
  • Advance the availability of such services to all consumers, including those in low income, rural, insular, and high cost areas at rates that are reasonably comparable to those charged in urban areas
  • Increase access to telecommunications and advanced services in schools, libraries and rural health care facilities
  • Provide equitable and non-discriminatory contributions from all providers of telecommunications services to the fund supporting universal service programs

Universal Access Fund (Georgia) – Georgia’s state version of the Universal Service Fund. This is a fund into which all telecommunications companies who operate in Georgia pay in order to provide a source of subsidy for companies that require additional funds to build and deliver telecommunications service if there is not enough revenue to do so from access fees.

VoIP – VoIP is short for Voice Over Internet Protocol, telephone service that uses the Internet to carry and deliver a call rather than traditional telephone wires.