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Blair Levin Cautions About Incumbent Right of First Refusal in Telco USF Plan

Add National Broadband Plan architect Blair Levin to those concerned about a telco Universal Service Fund reform plan that would give incumbent phone companies right of first refusal to some of those funds.

Cable operators large and small have argued that puts a thumb on the scale for their phone company competitors and could underwrite service where competitors can provide better and more cost-effectively  by funding ILECs without any demonstration of need, while providing no comparable support to smaller competitors, even in the rural markets that are in the fund's wheelhouse.

Part of Levin's broadband plan was USF reform that migrates phone service subsidies to broadband.

At an Information Technology & Innovation Foundation event Tuesday in Washington, Levin took a moment out of a panel session on spectrum incentive auction policy to weigh in on the telco's ABC (America's Broadband Connectivity) plan.

Levin, who is currently Communications and Society Fellow, Aspen Institute, said there was "a lot of good stuff in the ABC plan," but that did not include having the government make a technology choice. He said one of the things the FCC did right in the 1990's--he was chief of staff to then FCC Chair Reed Hundt--was to listen to where the market was. He said if the FCC were to make the judgment that incumbents get that right of first refusal, it would be "losing its credibility as an expert agency."

The FCC is expected to offer its USF proposal within the next couple of months--though it has pushed back its timetable before--which has put an exclamation point on the issue. Also adding a spotlight was the comment deadline last week on responses to the ABC plan, which included criticism from the American Cable Association.