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Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee Reviewed Universal Service Reform

WASHINGTON, June 25, 2010 – Universal Service reform is one of the key components of the National Broadband Plan and a principal which many in the telecommunications industry believe needs to happen before the current system collapses. On Thursday, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation held hearings to determine the state of the Universal Service Fund and to hear testimony to determine what should be done to reform it. While the hearing was titled “Universal Service: Transforming the High-Cost Fund for the Broadband Era” many of the Republican Senators spent a majority of their questions on reclassification not on universal service.



WASHINGTON, June 25, 2010 –Universal Service reform is one of the key components of the National Broadband Plan and a principal which many in the telecommunications industry believe needs to happen before the current system collapses.

On Thursday, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation held hearings to determine the state of the Universal Service Fund and to hear testimony to determine what should be done to reform it. While the hearing was titled “Universal Service: Transforming the High-Cost Fund for the Broadband Era” many of the Republican Senators spent a majority of their questions on reclassification not on universal service.

The National Broadband Plan aims to reform the Universal Service Fund by deconstructing it into two separate funds. The first fund would be the Connect America Fund which would replace the High Cost Fund; it would provide access to rural areas where no business case exists for corporate investment.

Additionally in comparison to the current High Cost Fund the CAF would only fund a single entity per geographic area which would limit costs. The second fund would help support the expansion of mobile broadband via the expansion of 3G and then 4G; this fund is called the Mobility Fund.

USF reform is one of the few topics where the majority of the FCC agree on and want to action upon quickly. Many of the democrats on the Senate Committee also seemed in agreement that reform is necessary. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) compared the expansion of broadband to electricity and the highway system, something which the government must support due to its high cost and ability to transform society.

Dorgan also stated that he felt that the 1996 Communications Act gave the FCC the authority to transform the USF from telephone support to broadband. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) agreed that USF need to provide rural America the same level of connectivity as the rest of the country but emphasized the need to do so with a limited amount of regulation.

Senator John Kerry was unable to attend the hearing but released the following statement “The program must evolve to reflect an evolving level of telecommunications services in the market.

And through reform, we must make sure the billions we spend to execute on that mission are spent effectively and efficiently and focused on increasing the number of Americans who receive and connect to our broadband network rather than on the size of the companies that receive the subsidy.”

The first witness panel consisted of Federal Communications Commissioners Michael Copps, Mingnon Clyburn and Meredith Atwell Baker.

Commissioner Copps lead off the witness testimony calling for large scale reform. He then gave a short history of how the nation even in its early colonial days provided for necessary infrastructure.  “So those generations built roads and bridges, turnpikes and canals, regional and then transcontinental railroads, an interstate highway system, nationwide electricity grids and nearly universal plain old telephone service.  They did this, more often than not, by working together—private enterprise in the lead, to be sure, but encouraged by visionary public policy.”

Copps then advocated the need for universal broadband access as not only a source of  economic empowerment but also as a social necessity. “America’s future town square will be paved with broadband bricks.  Sustaining small “d” democracy by effectively informing all of our citizens in the Digital Age goes to the core of what we are trying to achieve in the National Broadband Plan”

When asked if expansion should be left to the market; Copps reaffirmed his belief that the market cannot bring broadband to all of America and the government must help.

Commissioner Clyburn then reiterated the statements made by Copps for the need for government support. She then went onto underline the problems americans who don’t have access face. “Children cannot use high-speed Internet to complete their homework, enhance their educational opportunities through distance learning, or apply for college online.  Parents cannot apply for jobs that require online applications, and they cannot access many other services and critical information that is only available online.”

Commissioner Baker also agreed with her colleagues on the need for reform but warned that the USF does not have an unlimited source of funds. In fact due to the increasing number of consumers getting VOIP services they are not contributing to the USF.

She then went onto rearticulate her position that any action must be done with “a light-touch regulatory approach”.

When the commissioners were asked by Senator Dorgan if potential reclassification would hurt infrastructure investment Commissioners Copps and Clyburn felt it would not.

Clyburn stated that she had met with investors from UBS, Goldman Sachs and Meryl Lynch who said that it would provide them with increased security. Commissioner Baker however disagreed and claimed that investors told her that reclassification would bring about “too much regulation”.

The second witness panel consisted of industry professionals and was composed of Jeff Gardner, CEO Windstream Communications; Delbert Wilson General Manager, Hill Country Telephone Co-op; John Gockley VP Legal and Regulatory Affairs at US Cellular, Paul Waits President of Ritter Communications and Keyle McSlarrow CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

Jeff Gardner CEO of Windstream a firm which provides service to a majority of rural America agreed that USF needs to focus on areas where no economic case exists for corporate investment. He also urged that USF reform include a simpler mechanism for obtaining support so that smaller firms are able to participate.

Delbert Wilson who was representing the Western Telecommunications Alliance, Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies and Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies also believed that USF was crucial for the expansion for broadband to rural America but does not feel that rural America should have to make do with the slower speeds which the NBP proposes.

He felt that the plan “Discriminate[s] against rural consumers, by proposing to fund rural networks at speed standards that will render them obsolete almost as soon as they are built”.

John Gockley from US Cellular espoused the benefits of maintaining technological neutrality in the funding to allow for wireless to be on equal footing with wireline. Since wireless technologies are able to connect the most remote areas with the lowest cost they should be considered as an equal option.

Paul Waits from Ritter Communications urged the panel to proceed slowly and to take on responsible reform which can be sustained. Waits also stated that the base of contribution to the USF needs to be expanded. “The solution must include restoring the contribution base for the USF fee to effectively support the original intent of what constitutes universal service, must include all telecommunications service in its revenue base for collections, and be neutral to changes in technology.  The amount that individuals pay on their telephone bill to support universal service is simply too high and unsustainable.”

Commissioner Copps while not present during the testimony of Mr. Waits made a similar comment when asked about the long term sustainability of the USF. Copps said that broadband services may have to be taxed in the same way that telephone services are to provide proper funding.

Kyle McSlarrow from National Cable and Telecommunications Association provided the final statement in which he supported reform and agreed that technological neutrality ensured competition. He also wanted to ensure that waste is cut from the program.

Many of the Republican Senators felt that the FCC did not have the full authority to conduct an overhaul of USF and that the FCC should ask Congress for a new mandate.

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act


Carrier Association Requests Reconsideration of FCC Decision on 911 Outage Notification

The CCA says the FCC order creates burdens on call providers and 911 special facilities.



Photo of CCA president and CEO Tim Donovan

WASHINGTON, March 21, 2023 – The Competitive Carriers Association is asking the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider a November decision requiring carriers to provide certain network outage notifications within 30 minutes.

The FCC order mandates that originating call providers notify 911 special facilities – such as emergency call centers called public safety answering points – of outages “no later than within 30 minutes of when the outage that potentially affects 911 service is discovered.” The order also required those providers to keep up-to-date contact information for those special facilities in areas they serve.

In a petition on Friday, the CCA is asking for the FCC to review and implement flexibility in that timing. “The significant new requirements that the Commission has imposed on carriers…are likely to be burdensome and counter-productive not only for carriers, but also 911 special facilities,” the CCA said in its application, though it continues to encourage the commission to retain the “as soon as possible” requirement.

“At a minimum, however, the Commission should start the 30-minute timer (and subsequent timers) when actual originating service provider…notification occurs from its vendor or other underlying provider,” the CCA said, adding even then carriers “would face significant difficulty assessing the outage, identifying the appropriate” public safety answering points to notify, and making the required notifications within 30 minutes.

“Therefore, it would be appropriate to deem [originating call providers] compliant if they begin notifying affected PSAPs that an outage exists within the 30- minute timeframe, and continue to notify any PSAPs that the OSPs could not reach before the expiration of the 30-minutes,” the industry association added.

The association said the problem with the decision is it doesn’t account for the “practical difficulty (if not impossibility)” of getting a vendor notification, determining which of the thousands of answering points may be affected by the outage, and making the required notification in that timeframe. It said carriers frequently don’t get outage notifications from 911 solution vendors within 30 minutes.

“The unnecessarily rigid approach in the [order] will often make compliance an impossibility, and otherwise will require carriers to spend critical time and resources on notifications to PSAPs that are not affected by outages, and will subject PSAPs to frequent notifications regarding outages that do not affect them, with limited actionable information given the short deadline,” the CCA added.

The CCA is also requesting that the commission create and maintain a centralized database with information provided by the 911 special facilities. It notes that the FCC order fails to fully take into consideration the burden its approach will place on carriers, especially smaller ones with limited resources, and PSAPs, who are “likely to experience a recurring deluge of requests for updated contact information from numerous carriers subject to this amorphous standard.”

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FCC Nominee Gigi Sohn Withdraws from Consideration

Sohn was first nominated in October 2021.



WASHINGTON, March 7, 2023 – The nominee for the fifth commissioner to the Federal Communications Commission withdrew her candidacy in a statement Tuesday, blaming “dark money political groups” for tainting her career.

“Unfortunately, the American people are the real losers here,” Gigi Sohn said in the statement. “The FCC deadlock, now over two years long, will remain so for a long time. As someone who has advocated for my entire career for affordable, accessible broadband for every American, it is ironic that the 2-2 FCC will remain sidelined at the most consequential opportunity for broadband in our lifetimes.”

Just last month, Sohn appeared before the Senate commerce committee for a third time and was lambasted by Republican members as an impartial nominee who has made controversial public statements on race and policing and who alleged gave money to members of the committee while being a nominee.

“When I accepted his nomination over sixteen months ago, I could not have imagined that legions of cable and media industry lobbyists, their bought-and-paid-for surrogates, and dark money political groups with bottomless pockets would distort my over 30-year history as a consumer advocate into an absurd caricature of blatant lies,” Sohn’s statement said. “The unrelenting, dishonest and cruel attacks on my character and my career as an advocate for the public interest have taken an enormous toll on me and my family.”

She appealed to the committee to hurry her to the Senate floor for votes so she can get to work on the FCC’s broadband availability map. She said in her statement that her withdrawal also means the commission won’t have the majority to adopt rules on nondiscriminatory access to broadband and to fix the Universal Service Fund programs.

Sohn was nominated for a second time by President Joe Biden in January.

“I hope the President swiftly nominates an individual who puts the American people first over all other interests,” she added in the statement. “The country deserves nothing less.”

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Broadband Mapping & Data

General Agreement on Broadband Label, But Not on Additional Disclosure Requirements

The FCC is considering additional requirements, but that could be burdensome for small providers.



Screenshot of speakers at the Federal Communications Bar Association event

WASHINGTON, February 15, 2023 — As the comment deadline approaches for the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband “nutrition label” rule, industry experts are largely supportive of the measure, although some disagree over whether the requirements go too far or not far enough.

The FCC is currently considering whether to add additional requirements — such as cybersecurity data and more comprehensive pricing information about bundled plans — to the labels, which were mandated in November and require that providers list performance metrics, cost and other facts to inform purchasers at all points of sale. Other proposed measures aim to improve accessibility by requiring non-English translations, as well as Braille or a QR code with a tactile indicator. The comment deadline is Thursday.

Further requirements could have negative impacts on both consumers and providers, argued Farhan Chughtai, senior policy counsel at broadband consulting company JSI, at a Feb. 6 Federal Communications Bar Association event.

“You don’t want to make the labels too difficult—that’s going to lead to more consumer confusion,” Chughtai said. He pointed to metrics such as network management, network reliability and cybersecurity as topics that might be “too nuanced” for the labels.

Overly complicated labels risk being treated like terms of service agreements, where many users just skip through them, Chughtai said. “Let’s focus on speed, latency, monthly usage.”

Additional requirements would place a disproportionate burden on smaller, rural providers, he added.

Chughtai also pointed to the “point of sale” disclosure requirements as a potential barrier for small providers.

“For some of the larger providers, that documentation can be automated,” he said. “But when you’re talking about a small carrier in Kentucky that has two or three people that are working, that type of communication… could be troublesome. So again, I think that the commission did strike a good balance, but when it comes to implementation, I think there’s ways to continue to refine this.”

Diana Eisner, vice president of policy and advocacy at industry association USTelecom, agreed with Chughtai, adding that both small and large providers “agree that this point of sale documentation is problematic.”

The FCC should work with industry and consumer groups to continuously fine-tune the label requirements, Chughtai said.

Debate on current version of label

“I think the commission really struck the right balance largely of making sure that consumers can see the information in a snapshot—they’re not overloaded with irrelevant information,” Eisner said.

Consumer advocates are generally excited about the label, said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel at Consumer Reports. “I think the commission gets it mostly right,” he said.

However, Schwantes voiced concerns about the label’s scope, saying that they were intended to educate consumers in addition to serving as a comparison shopping tool.

“I’m concerned that existing consumers may never see the label unless you’re moving or you decide to change or maybe if you’re lucky enough to have a competing provider,” he said. “Based on the [FCC’s Communications Marketplace] report that came out right at the end of last year, there are still many millions of Americans who only have one choice of broadband provider.”

Schwantes noted that he and several other consumer groups attempted to address this issue by advocating for the labels’ inclusion on monthly service bills, but such a requirement failed to make it into the FCC’s mandate.

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