WASHINGTON, February 22, 2010 – A meeting of regulatory commissioners last weekend included much discussion of major telecommunications issues such as the state of the nation’s broadband.
One of the panel discussions at the annual winter meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Commissioners focused on broadband and universal service, or how to get communications services and access to all consumers regardless of location and income.
Several panelists cited the need to reform the universal service fund to include high-speed broadband access.
Peter Bluhm from Rolka, Loube, Saltzer Associates suggested that rather than real change, the universal service fund has been going through perpetual reform.
Additionally, the public and private sectors must set realistic goals for achieving universal service, he said. For example, obtaining 100 percent coverage may not be possible but it might be possible to provide communications services to 96 percent.
Steve Morris of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association claimed that better data maps are necessary prior to increased investment. Additionally, he said the current federal program does not account for bundled services.
Consultant Joe Gillain with Gillain Associates agreed with Bluhm when he said the federal program should stop subsidizing competition.
Additionally, if an area can only sustain a single network than it’s unreasonable for the government to subsidize a second service simply to force competition, he said.
The current system of reimbursement is flawed because there is no way to determine if the costs incurred by the providers are the actual costs, according to Gillain.
Additionally, reverse auctions are flawed because it’s not reasonable to believe that multiple actors will attempt to enter a noncompetitive or non commercially viable area, he said. Reverse auctions generally have only been attempted in areas where no telecommunications services exist.
Alan Buzacott, an executive director with Verizon, said a firm budget needs to be set so the body overseeing the universal service fund will be forced to determine which projects are worth funding.
Additionally the mechanism for funding needs to be adjusted to allow for a more balanced approached, he said.
The issue of broadband mapping was a major topic covered during the meeting since many states have chosen to do their mapping in-house rather than hiring contractors.
Anne Neville, the program director of the National Broadband Mapping effort, advised the commissioners to keep in regular contact with her and with other commissioners. Regular communication should allow for the easier resolution of problems and the creation of new processes, she said. Neville cited examples where the National Telecommunications and Information Administration helped states negotiate with Internet service providers to obtain access information.
Jeff Richter from the Wisconsin Public Utility Commission said that by allowing the ISPs to write a document about the information they were willing to divulge made it much easier for the PUC to work with them. The PUC was able to see what information ISPs were willing to give up easily and then discuss obtaining additional information.
NARUC’s telecommunications subcommittee also passed its annual resolution expressing the views of the organization. It supports network neutrality but emphasized support of other topics with the following statements:
NARUC endorsed the right of all Internet users, including broadband wireline and cable modem users to:
• Have access to the Internet that is unrestricted as to viewpoint and that is provided without unreasonable discrimination as to lawful choice of content (including software applications); and
• Receive meaningful information regarding the technical limitations of their broadband service RESOLVED, That notwithstanding these differences, NARUC encourages the FCC and/or Congress,when crafting rules and regulations in this area to define what constitutes unreasonable restrictions or unreasonable discrimination, strive to be as technologically neutral as possible, continue to give providers incentive for innovation and a fair return on their investment, without jeopardizing the goals of ensuring that all consumers have access to and use of affordable and reliable broadband services;
In addition to the resolution on network neutrality, the subcommittee on telecommunication joined with the critical infrastructure and electricity committees to support the need for increased cyber security. Following are key portions of the resolution:
“WHEREAS, Cyber attacks may be undertaken to infiltrate the control systems which operate and maintain our most critical utility infrastructure including Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems (SCADA) which regulate our water and wastewater treatment and distribution, transmission and distribution of electricity and natural gas, and communication networks for the very purpose of causing disruption or harm to public health, public safety, government, and the economy;
WHEREAS, Threat of cyber attack against control systems cannot be eliminated but actions can be taken to reduce the likelihood of a successful attacks, to mitigate the harmful consequences of an attack, and to improve a utility’s ability to improve system protection and restoration from future attacks, and thus enhance the resiliency of critical utility systems; and
WHEREAS, Measures to prevent an attack or mitigate its consequences come with costs which must be balanced against the likelihood of the threat and the significance of the potential harm; and
WHEREAS, Recognized industry-specific standards exist which identify protocols for protection from the threat of cyber attack on critical electric, gas, telecommunications, and water infrastructures.”