Barton Blasts FCC Over USF

Rep. Joe Barton
(R-Tex.), ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee says the
FCC should forget about reclassifying broadband and concentrate on reforming
the high-cost portion of the Universal Service Fund, which industry pays into
to subsidize phone service in areas where it is uneconomical to provide

That came in
response to the posting by Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) of
FCC-supplied breakdowns on how, where and to whom the $8 billion in the fund
was being handed out
. According to the FCC stats, Verizon and AT&T were the biggest recipients of high-cost USF funds over the past three years at $1.3 billion and $1.275 billion, respectively.

"The FCC is not
only wasting time chasing a network neutrality ‘problem' that doesn't
exist," said Barton in an e-mailed statement, "it is wasting
Americans' money by failing to reform the Universal Service Fund. Subscribers
now pay close to 14% of their long-distance phone bills to subsidize scores of
telephone providers in each geographic market while other providers are serving
the same markets without a penny of support."

To be fair, FCC
Chairman Julius Genachowski has signaled he wants to do both: reclassify
broadband and reform USF. He has pointed out on more than one occasion that the
FCC can do more than one thing at a time. As part of the broadband plan, the
FCC has proposed reforming the fund in two senses of the word, both in terms of
its performance and transparency, and remaking it into a subsidy for broadband,
rather than phone, deployment.

FCC General
Counsel Austin Schlick has also pointed out that the FCC may not be able
to do all it wants to do on USF reform without the clearer broadband regulatory
authority they are seeking with reclassification.

But Barton
isn't buying that. "It is inexcusable that the FCC chairman is trying to
reclassify broadband service under the pretext that the commission lacks
authority to implement aspects of the national broadband plan when he should
instead be focusing on bipartisan aspects of the plan that he clearly has
authority to move on, such as reducing antiquated voice service subsidies."

The chairman's
office had no comment on Barton's critique.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.