Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, today outlined the topics he hopes to address in a likely rewrite of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and called on National Association of Regulatory Utility (NARUC) members to reconsider their proposals for reform of intercarrier compensation rules.
Stevens chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which is spearheading a telecom rewrite was the keynote speaker at NARUCs winter meeting in Washington, D.C.
I applaud the efforts of your group and others to reform the complex system of intercarrier compensation, Stevens said. But I am told the [NARUC] working group hopes to transfer the payments now made between carriers for handling each others traffic to be paid by the Universal Service Fund. There are estimates this could cost the fund in the neighborhood of $1 million. Until the contributions to the fund are stabilized I question how that can be considered, to transfer that burden to the fund.
The multibillion-dollar USF is the subject of much scrutiny on the Hill, in Congress and at the FCC. Policymakers are considering several approaches, including whether to assess all revenue intrastate and interstate alike; or assess phone numbers; or charge per connection.
The current contribution mechanism is broken and it needs reform, Stevens said.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin supports a numbers-based approach and Stevens said the Commerce Committee wants to examine that structure. The numbers-based system would assess USF fees of $1-$2 more per month to everyone with a landline telephone, regardless of whether consumers make long-distance calls. Martin supports this method, as opposed to the current revenue-based system, or the proposal that the government levy charges based on the number of connections whether Internet, landline or cable per household.
When it comes to the services Universal Service proceeds should fund, Stevens said he agrees with some of his colleagues proposals that the USF pay carriers to roll out broadband throughout rural America.
I endorse that principle, Stevens said. Without it, rural America will never make it onto the on-ramp of the Information Superhighway. Rural people could be left on a dirt road with dialup Internet if the USF does not provide ways for them to have high-speed access, he said.
On the whole, Stevens said, the Senate Commerce Committee is eager to work with NARUC members to produce a bill that joins federal and state regulators in the process to protect consumers and minimize government red tape and bureaucracy. We can work together and Im here to offer you our full support if youre willing to work with us.
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