NARUC Panel Supports USF Reform

FCC, Mobile Broadband, Universal Service February 16th, 2011

, Deputy Editor, BroadbandBreakfast.com

WASHINGTON February 15, 2011 – On Monday, the Telecommunications Subcommittee of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners gathered a diverse group of experts to discuss the Proposed Rulemaking on Universal Service Fund Reform the Federal Communications Commission recently issued.

The panel brought together a wide range of experts, including Joel Lubin from AT&T, James Cawley from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, and Parul Desai from Consumers Union. The group represented a range of opinions but they all agreed that the NPRM was an essential update to the Universal Service Fund.

“It was good to see that broadband was finally included in universal service and the goal of 4Mbps down  is promising,” said Desai.

Cawley was also supportive of the speed goal calling it “reasonable and measured”.

Mike Balhoff, from the consulting firm Balhoff & Williams, described how the group felt about the NPRM, saying, “the gun is to our heads and now necessary reform will have to occur.”

Eric Einhorn from rural broadband provider Windstream, indicated that his firm was particularly pleased that the FCC choose to be technologically neutral in their plan to modify high cost support to a single entity. Einhorn hoped this would allow for true competition between wireline and wireless.

“Under the new proposal, High Cost support will only be given after the entity reaches preset service goals,” said Billy Jack Gregg the former Director of the Consumer Advocate Division of the West Virginia Public Service Commission. “This is going to make sure that [the Universal Service Administrative Company] won’t have to continuously monitor recipients to ensure that service goals are being met”

Steven Morris from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association highlighted the fact that the USF now has a set budget, and the FCC must figure out how to find solutions under this budget.

Gregg echoed this statement, saying, “the USF is finally like other government programs with a set budget”.

The only problem that the group had with the NPRM is that it failed to address contribution reform. Balhoff, Cawley and Gregg each underscored that while contribution reform was not included in the NPRM it is likely that the issue will be addressed soon. Lubin predicted that it would happen in the late spring.

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