The Federal Communications Commission's tentative agenda released Tuesday for its February open meeting includes a proposal for overhauling and modernizing parts of the Universal Service Fund, which helps subsidize the cost of telephone service in rural and high-cost areas and provides support for Intenet access for schools and libraries.
The tentative agenda includes a notice of proposed rulemaking on ways to expand the USF to include support for broadband in unserved areas and a proposal for overhauling the inter-carrier compensation system, which are the fees paid by one telecom carrier to another to originate, transport or terminate telecommunications traffic. A portion of these fees, which are passed on to consumers, go to support universal service.
In its national broadband plan, the FCC proposed reforming the inter-carrier compensation system to reduce incentives that keep some carriers, particularly smaller ones, from migrating to broadband technologies because of the fees they get from the current inter-carrier compensation system. In addition, the plan called for creating a new Connect America Fund as part of universal service to help expand access to broadband.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has indicated, as recently as last week, that inter-carrier compensation and USF reform are linked and should be dealt with at the same time.
The proposed rule making on the FCC's tentative agenda for its Feb. 8th meeting "proposes near-term support for broadband deployment in unserved areas and measures to address ICC arbitrage, as well as a long-term transition from current high-cost support and ICC mechanisms to a single, fiscally responsible Connect America Fund," according to the commission's notice.
In the last Congress Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., and ex-Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., introduced a USF reform bill. While Boucher was defeated for re-election in November, Terry has indicated he plans to continue to pursue the issue this Congress.
However, an aide to Senate Commerce Chairman John (Jay) Rockefeller, D-Va., said Tuesday at the State of the Net conference that his boss apperas likely to let the FCC take the lead on the issue for now.