The FCC is getting pressured to delay yet another matter on its ambitious Nov. 4 agenda. This time, members of Congress want the FCC to postpone its vote on intercarrier compensation and the Universal Service Fund (USF) for at least two months.
Sixty-one members of Congress penned a letter yesterday to the FCC saying the FCC’s proposal would result in higher costs to consumers and hinder broadband investment across the country. They’re concerned the commission has not released the full proposal for public review and suggest that Congress, not the FCC, decide how the USF gets changed.
USF reform has been a hot-button issue for years, so interested parties are wondering why the FCC chose Nov. 4 – Election Day – to make a ruling on the issue. “We don’t know what they’re planning to do,” which will inevitably lead to unintended consequences, said John Rooney, president and CEO of U.S. Cellular.
From what he has learned, however, the latest plan is to take subsidies away from rural operators, which would “effectively bring us to a screeching halt in what we’re doing in the more rural parts of the areas we serve,” he said. “It’s a rush to judgment” on a day when most people will be focused on the election. “To me, it seems to fly right in the face of what the Telecom Act requires … you’ve got these guys making a decision in a telephone booth somewhere.”
Companies such as U.S. Cellular receive subsidies to install equipment in areas where there’s little or no justification for investing in equipment because the population is sparse and not enough business transactions are going on to pay for it. Typically, U.S. Cellular executives sit down with state public utility commissioners and map out 2- or 3-year plans to determine what a given area needs, he said. The subsidies help build and maintain sites, so even if no new sites were built, the company would lose out on maintenance funds.
In an ex parte FCC filing this week, CTIA spelled out its stance, saying it supports FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s efforts to take steps toward reform of both intercarrier compensation and universal service. CTIA supports the draft framework – with some proposed modifications, such as a 5-year transition during which support currently provided to competitive eligible telecom carriers would be phased out in equal increments and funding provided under any successor mechanisms would be phased in. It also wants the commission to seek comment on an appropriate universal service mechanism focused on the deployment and maintenance of advanced mobile wireless services in high-cost and rural areas.
Today, AARP and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) independently sent letters to the FCC stating concerns regarding the FCC’s proposed order. Each group separately urged the FCC to postpone the vote in order to allow for public input and to ensure a sufficient review period for FCC commissioners and members of Congress.
Filed Under: Industry regulations, Infrastructure