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FCC Releases Mammoth USF Order

The FCC Friday took care of one FCC process reform complaint from Republicans last week. It released the final order on its remake of the Universal Service Fund from phone to broadband subsidies.

During a hearing on potential measures to get the FCC to release such orders ASAP, Republicans had complained that almost three weeks after the order had been voted (Oct. 27), it had not been released, although the FCC had released an executive summary that outlined the changes.

Now they will have a chance to pore over the details of the 759-page opus.

The order budgets the high-cost fund, rechristened the Connect America Fund, at $4.5 million, though does not hard cap it as some, including cable ops, had called for, and for the first time makes mobile broadband a universal service goal with its own separate Mobility Fund.

The order "phases down" legacy subsidies for traditional phone. It also separately reforms intercarrier compensation, including making it explicit that cable ops VoIP traffic should get equal footing with other phone service when it comes to compensation for exchanging and terminating traffic.

The FCC's goal is to get as many people connected to high-speed Internet and voice in rural America, saying it will create half a million jobs and $50 billion in economic growth in the bargain.

USF is the fund carriers pay into to subsidize communications services to rural and hard-to-reach areas for which there is no business case. Intercarrier comps are the payments among carriers to originate, transport, and terminate telecommunications traffic, within a framework of state and federal regs.