Monday, June 28, 2010

FCC and universal service - US Commerce Committee hearing

On June 24 FCC commissioners Copps, Clyburn and Baker spoke at a US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing titled Universal Service: Transforming the High-Cost Fund for the Broadband Era.

The hearing focused on the FCC's net neutrality proposals and shifting the focus of the Universal Service Fund (USF) from subsidizing phone service to funding new broadband network investments. All three commissioners were in agreement that the comprehensive universal service reform is long overdue, targeted to broadband investment.

Commissioner Copps delved deep into the detail of the USF in his speech:
"The existing Universal Service Fund is comprised of four programs, created by the FCC pursuant to section 254 of the 1996 Act. The high-cost program - our focus today - provides direct support to ensure that consumers across the country have access to and pay rates for telecommunications services that are reasonably comparable to those in urban areas. This has been largely a success, with telephone penetration at about 98.2% - although it should be noted that there are areas like Indian Country that remain embarrassingly behind in even the most basic connectivity. But, unlike the E-rate and Rural Health Care programs, which provide support directly for broadband access pursuant to statute, the high cost program, as well as the low income program, is not designed to support broadband directly. I strongly believe that if we are going to ensure that no community, no citizen, is left behind by lack of access to basic or advanced telecommunications in this new digital age, we must bring broadband fully into the Universal Service system. No doubt this is a tall order. The Fund includes many moving parts, and we must consider them all when bringing our Universal Service system into the broadband age. This will require something more than merely an adaptation of current USF programs - we must consider the broadband ecosystem and make fundamental changes, and this applies particularly to the high cost program." 

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