O'Rielly: USAC Needs to Clean Up Its Act

Chris Henderson, CEO of the Universal Service Administrative Co., has resigned, which was viewed as an opportunity for needed change by the FCC’s point person on the USAC, which administers the FCC's Universal Service Fund (USF)  telecom/broadband subsidies to rural and low-income residents.

Henderson has been in the post since 2014. Vickie Robinson, USAC VP and general counsel, has been named acting CEO.

FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, who has been critical of the fund, appeared pleased with the exit, at least as a chance to do boost accountability or clean house. O'Rielly was named by new chairman Ajit Pai as chairman of the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service, so he has more than a rooting interest in USAC reforms.

“The departure of its CEO presents an opportunity for the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) to clean up its act," said O'Rielly following the announcement. "USAC, as it has been managed, is not sufficiently accountable to the Commission, and is not meeting the needs of universal service stakeholders or the public, who pay fees to support USAC’s operations. Absent significant and timely improvements, I believe that all options should be on the table, including putting USAC’s functions out for contract, as the Commission has done in other circumstances.”

Back in February, O'Rielly asked Henderson for help in heading off potential waste in the E-rate (schools and libraries) program, specifically overbuilding of existing plans. Implicit in the request was a criticism of the program's administration.

FCC Chairman Pai has drawn some heat for withdrawing some Lifeline subsidies in part to come up with a better way to vet them for potential waste, fraud and abuse. O'Rielly backed Pai's decision.

The Lifeline program is also a USF subsidy.

John Eggerton

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.