Skip to main content

Industry Consensus Plan on USF Reform in Offing

Look for some major telecom firms to jointly file a
Universal Service Reform plan next week with the FCC.

The commission has been seeking industry input and
Verizon EVP Tom Tauke said at a Minority Media & Telecommunications Counsel
conference that it would get it. That plan is on how to transition the fund
from phone service to broadband, which is a major goal in the FCC's push for
USF reform.

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, who also spoke at the
conference, was asked whether he was optimistic about that industry consensus
and his reaction was mixed.

He called universal service a "thorny" issue.
"You can't make everyone happy and you have to do what the right thing is
and get on with it." He did level that directly as a criticism of FCC
Chairman Julius Genachowski, but others have criticized the chairman for being
too eager to achieve consensus before acting, the network neutrality rules
being a case in point.

But McDowell suggested that lack of action predated the
current commission by a bit. "I think one reason it has been 12 or 13
years since the FCC has really done anything major in universal service is in
part looking to make everyone happy."

The chairman's plan had initially been August for a USF
reform item, McDowell pointed out, which slipped to September and then October.
"I start to get anxious when I hear about those dates slipping away,"
he said.

One of the reasons for the need for speed, he said, is
that if the president appoints two new FCC commissioners before a vote, they
might, understandably, need and deserve time to vet the "complicated and
arcane" issues, which could further delay the proceeding. He did add that
given the names being reported, they would already be familiar with the issues
already. (Those names are believed to be Jessica Rosenworcel, top Senate
Commerce Communications counsel for the Democratic seat of exiting Michael
Copps, and Ajit Pai, former FCC and Senate Judiciary counsel, for the vacant
Republican seat).

He said it was kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome for
him since he has been close on USF before, back in 2007 when two Republicans
and two Democrats were in agreement on reform. (holdout, chairman Kevin Martin,
would not bring the item up for a vote).

And in addition to getting reform of the payments out in
an NPRM, he said there needs to be an NPRM on how the contributions are made.
"It is one thing to say what you are going to buy. It's another thing to
say how you are going to pay for it."

Moving the Universal Service Fund to subsidize broadband
build-out -- it is now focused on traditional phone subsidies -- is one of the
elements of the FCC's National Broadband Plan.