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Cable Technology Feature Article

October 30, 2008

Some Members of Congress Urge FCC Caution in Universal Service Fund Vote

By Michael Dinan, TMCnet Editor

Saying they’re concerned about higher consumer costs and less investment in broadband in the United States, 61 members of Congress this week reportedly urged the federal agency that oversees communications to postpone a vote that they say could unfavorably restructure compensation among carriers.
Specifically, the legislators say the Federal Communications Commission shouldn’t rework the way companies contribute to the so-called “Universal Service Fund” until it gets input from carriers themselves. The fund was created 11 years ago following a law that says telecom providers should contribute to federal universal service.
The congressmen say they’re concerned that the FCC (News - Alert) hasn’t released a full proposal for public review.
“The public deserves the opportunity to provide fully informed comments, and the commission stands to gain by understanding the positions of all parties interested in its potentially sweeping decision,” the legislators’ letter says. “Only with a fully developed record on the proposal currently under consideration can the Commission make an educated decision that truly serves the public interest. Therefore, we urge the Commission to put the full proposal on record and seek public comment for a period of at least two months.”
The FCC is frequently at odds with the telecom world, one of the largest sectors it regulates.
As TMCnet reported, earlier this month, the FCC fined two cable industry giants a combined $60,000 plus refunds, saying they prevented subscribers from watching certain channels.
By using switched digital video technology, Time Warner Cable Inc. and Cox (News - Alert) Communications Inc. effectively prevented some Hawaii and Virginia residents from watching some high-definition sports and entertainment channels, according to the FCC.
“It’s not fair for consumers to pay the same prices for fewer channels,” Robert Kenny, a spokesman for the FCC, reportedly told The Associated Press.
In their letter, congressional members said that they themselves are looking at a proposal for reforming the universal service system and are poised to pass the legislation next session.
“While we share the commission’s interest in making much needed changes to the universal service fund, elected and accountable representatives in Congress should properly design the reform,” their letter says. “With appropriate legislation, the commission will be equipped with the tools and guidance necessary to adopt regulations pursuant to the statutory reform that best serve the public interest.”
It isn’t clear, of course, just how Congress will look after next week’s national elections.
Nevertheless, one telecom advocate applauded the 61 members’ effort.
According to Curt Stamp, president of the Independent Telephone & Telecommunications Alliance and member of the Coalition for Affordable Communications, said his group long has supported “reasonable, comprehensive ICC reform.”
“For such reform to be meaningful, all interested parties must have the advantage of a thorough comment and deliberation process,” Stamp said. “This letter demonstrates the significant bipartisan opposition in Congress to the FCC’s effort to rush through a wholesale reform of the telecom industry without providing all interested parties the opportunity to make fully informed comments.”
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Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan