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Stakeholders Seek More Time To Vet Universal Service Fund's Future

FCC's 2020 seal
(Image credit: FCC)

Stakeholders on all sides have asked the Federal Communications Commission for more time to digest and comment on the agency‘s request for input on the impact of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act's $65 billion investment in broadband on the Universal Service Fund advanced telecom subsidy program.

Currently the deadline for comments is January 18-31 for reply comments, but the parties argue the issues are too complex and the stakes too high not to provide more time to stakeholders. “Evaluating how this longstanding fund and the newly-minted IIJA can work together to accomplish the FCC’s mandate to connect all Americans will require time,“ the stakeholders said.

Those stakeholders, ranging from NCTA–The Internet & Television Association, ACA Connects and USTelecom to Common Cause, Public Knowledge and the Benton Foundation, joined Wednesday to petition the FCC for 30 more days for comment —until February 17 — and until March 17 for reply comments.

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“While not granting this extension will significantly curtail the Public Interest and Industry Stakeholders’ ability to fully participate in this proceeding, granting an extension at this early stage will have little impact on the proceeding and will not prejudice any other party to proceeding,“ they told the FCC.

They opined that the large number of active proceedings has made it “incredibly difficult” for stakeholders to “fully participate.”

They also pointed out that the notice of inquiry (NOI) was issued just 10 days before Christmas with a mid-January due date. “Holiday travel, staff vacations, and end-of-the-year obligations create significant hurdles to evaluate the complexity of the Infrastructure Act’s impact on the USF,” they said, adding that public interest groups have limited resources and tend to be understaffed over the holidays.

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The FCC does not routinely grant extensions of its comment deadline, but does so on a case-by-case basis for good cause, which the petitioners are convinced they have, including so the FCC can develop a better record on which to base a decision. The FCC also has pushed deadlines in recognition of holiday issues. ■

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.