FCC Puts USF/ICC Proposals for Comment

The FCC wasted no time in putting out a trio of Universal Service/Intercarrier compensation reform proposals for comment, a point made by one of the proposal backers. The proposals were only submitted late last week.

The FCC has been getting some flak for pushing back planned summer action on USF and ICC reform, which most commenters want it to tackle in tandem, with its decision on just how to engineer reforms not expected until fall at the earliest.

The FCC Wednesday night (Aug. 3) issued a notice giving commenters until Aug. 31 to weigh in on specific aspects of three proposals for reforming USF, the fund that currently subsidizes phone service in high-cost areas and is being migrated to broadband subsidies, and intercarrier compensation, which is how networks compensate each other for exchanging traffic across their respective networks.

The plans are the ABC plan (America's Broadband Connectivity), from a coalition of six carriers (AT&T, CenturyLink, Fairpoint, Frontier, Verizon and Windstream); a Federal State Universal Service Joint Board. plan and one from rural telcos, the last which dovetails with the ABC plan but is separate and targeted to the specific needs and concerns of smaller carriers.

While they differ, all agree that the USF fund needs reforming, its money spent wisely, and that it must be migrated it to broadband, though they differ on just how that should be accomplished.

The FCC has 16 pages worth of questions on everything from whether it should create separate funds for mobile and fixed wireless to whether VoIP traffic should be subject to different intercarrier compensation rates than other traffic during the first part of the migration.

"The FCC wasted no time, issuing a public notice that focuses attention on three key proposals," said Verizon spokesman David Fish, speaking for the companies in the ABC plan. "The commission is moving quickly and obviously intends to reform universal service and intercarrier compensation very soon. The timing feels right. Momentum has built in favor of Chairman Genachowski's goal of enacting serious reforms, and the coalition supporting FCC action is stronger than ever." 

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has already responded with what it says should be in any plan adopted by the FCC: Fiscally responsible funding, targeted support (providing high-coast area support only when there is no incumbent provider of any kind, and a "Specific, Symmetrical Transition for Intercarrier Compensation."

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.