Three state members of the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service today renewed their recommendation that the FCC expand the universal service contribution base by including additional services, including broadband offerings.
In a cover letter, Chris Nelson of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, Sally Talberg of the Michigan Public Service Commission, and Steve Bloom of the Oregon Public Utilities Commission bemoaned the lack of communication between them and federal members of the joint board.
FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly chairs the board. The letter by the state joint board members spells his last name incorrectly. Mr. O’Rielly has opposed expanding the contribution base by requiring contributions from broadband companies. The other federal members of the joint board are Commissioners Brendan Carr and Geoffrey Starks.
The letter noted that the FCC referred to the board in 2014 the issue of reforming the USF contribution methodology.
“Through 2016 the Joint Board worked diligently and collaboratively on this referral by evaluating numerous scenarios for a revised contribution methodology. Other than a meeting in the summer of 2017 with Commissioner [O’Rielly] to share thoughts on how to proceed, no progress was made in 2017 toward forming a recommendation,” according to the letter. “This lack of progress in 2017 was frustrating to the State Members of the Joint Board. We have taken this referral seriously and are committed to seeing reform of the contribution methodology. Given the extent of analysis conducted by Joint Board members and staff and the desire to jump start the Joint Board process, the State Members of the Joint Board submitted our proposed contribution methodology recommendation to our federal colleagues on January 30, 2018. No response was received from our federal colleagues to this proposal nor was any further work done on the referral in 2018.
“In February of 2019 the State Members met with our federal colleagues for the first time since the summer of 2017. Commissioner [O’Rielly] made it clear that he would not consider the State Member recommendation. We discussed other options to research and agreed to meet again to evaluate those options in July of 2019. Unfortunately, that meeting did not occur and the State Members have not received any communication from our federal colleagues since the meeting in February,” the letter added. “After five years of work on this issue the State Members believe we have completed our obligation under the 2014 referral. We see nothing productive coming from prolonging the silence between the State Members and our federal colleagues. The attached recommendation (the same that was provided to our federal colleagues in January 2018) is our final product.
“The USF fee percentage at the time of the 2014 referral was 15.7%. Today it is 25%. That continued increase is unsustainable and patently unfair to telephone subscribers. We encourage the FCC to move forward with the State Member recommendation,” the state officials added. “To be clear, we still strongly believe in the value of the Joint Board process. We believe that the best decisions can be made through thorough give and take discussions between state and federal commissioners who respect each other and each other’s point of view. We look forward to a time when that process can once again be vigorous, vibrant, and productive.”
The letter noted that former joint board members Elin Katz and Gregg Sayre also supported the recommendation.
“In this Recommended Decision, the State Members of the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service recommend that the Federal Communications Commission (the Commission) revise the existing contribution mechanism for federal universal service programs. The State Members of the Joint Board find that the Commission has the authority, and that it is in the public interest, to expand the contribution base to include a broader class of services that touch the public communications network, including Broadband Internet Access Service (BIAS). The State Members of the Joint Board recommends the Commission adopt a connections-based assessment on residential services and an expanded revenues-based assessment on business services,” said the renewed recommendation, which was submitted in WC dockets 96-45, 06-122, and 09-51. “We are also mindful that it is consumers who must pay universal service contributions. Despite our strong interest in providing adequate funding, we also want to avoid significantly increasing the burden on consumers. Therefore, we also recommend that the Commission establish a firm budget for each of the four universal service fund programs with those budgets not growing any more than the Consumer Price Index for any given year. Finally, we recommend the Commission take specific steps to assure the continued viability of state universal service mechanisms promoted by Congress in the 1996 Act.”
The offices of Commissioners O’Rielly, Carr, and Starks did not respond to requests for comment on today’s filing by TR Daily’s late-afternoon deadline. —Paul Kirby, [email protected]
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