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Boucher/Terry Bill Would Clarify FCC Authority to Migrate USF to Broadband

won't need to reclassify braodband as a Title II service to clarify its
ability to migrate the Universal Service Fund to broadband if a
just-introduced bill by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and
Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) can run the legislative gauntlet.

The bill,
which follows up on a USF reform draft Boucher circulated previously for
input, is supported by the National Cable & Telecommunications
Association, USTelecom and others. NCTA called the
Universal Service Reform Act of 2010 "a sound first step to refocus the
program on broadband."

"Building on a proposal that NCTA
filed with the FCC last year, the bill would establish a permanent
mechanism by which the Commission would reassess support levels in
competitive areas and reduce or eliminate support where
adequate competition exists," NCTA President & CEO Kyle McSlarrow said. "The bill also recognizes
the importance of resolving the difficult, but very important, issues
surrounding intercarrier compensation reform."

"It declares
broadband to be a universal service, so support for the build out of
broadband lines would be explicit," according to a summary of the bill.

Among other
things it would also develop a new model for calculating what companies
have to pay into the high-cost fund, which currently subsidizes phone
service to areas where the cost to deliver
it is too high to make business sense.

It will also
reform the fund by reducing the support to incumbent carriers in areas
where at least 75% of the households have competitive choices.
The bill
also requires wireless carriers to bid competitively for USF support.

The FCC has
made transitioning USF to broadband one of its goals in the national
broadband plan because it argues, and few would dispute, that the
Internet is becoming a lifeline service similar to
phone and electricity.

"The measure
will expand who pays into the Fund, control the growth of the Fund and
modernize the Fund by allowing its use for the deployment of high-speed
broadband service," said Boucher and Terry
in announcing the bill's introduction.

"We endorse this
legislation, support its passage and will continue to cooperate as this
legislation makes its way through Congress," said Verizon SVP Peter
Davidson in a statement.

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.