[ Text | Word97 ]

Separate Statement of Commissioner Harold W. Furchtgott-Roth

Re: Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service: Promoting Deployment and Subscribership in Unserved and Underserved Areas, Including Tribal and Insular Areas, CC Docket 96-45.

I support many of the worthwhile goals of today's Order. Although I write separately to express limited concerns about this item, I commend my colleagues and the members of the Commission staff who have worked so diligently on this important action.

First, I object to the item's apparent invention of a new classification described as "underserved areas." This classification does not appear in the Communications Act. In fact, the Act specifically refers to a category of "unserved areas" for which Congress directed the Commission and the States to take specific action. See Section 214(e)(3). Congress, however, did not create a category of "underserved areas," and the Commission has no authority to create one on its own motion. I believe the Commission can achieve the goals set forth in this item without inventing new terms and, as a result, placing at risk the goals we seek to serve in this item.

Section 214(e)(6) directs the Commission to designate a common carrier as an eligible telecommunications carrier for purposes of receiving universal service support when, inter alia, the common carrier is not subject to the jurisdiction of a State commission. Although the goals of today's Order are worthwhile, meeting these goals should not result in overbroad results. I thus object to the tentative conclusion that this section should be interpreted such that the determination of whether a carrier is subject to the jurisdiction of a State commission depends on the geographic area in which the service is being provided (e.g. tribal lands) or the nature of the service provided (e.g. satellite or terrestrial wireless). Supra. at par. 78. I am concerned that such a conclusion will ultimately lead to the federal government designating satellite and terrestrial wireless carriers as eligible telecommunications carriers outside of tribal areas. I dissent from this tentative conclusion, because I do not believe that this outcome is supported by section 214(e)(6).

Finally, I question the decision to solicit comment regarding whether the Commission should establish national guidelines by which states must make the determination of which carriers are best able to provide services to unserved areas. Supra. at par. 93. The Fifth Circuit only last month reversed a Commission order interpreting a very similar statutory provision in which the Commission attempted to prohibit States from developing their own requirements when designating carriers as eligible for federal universal service support pursuant to section 214(e)(2).1 When the Commission solicits comment on a topic, it encourages members of the public to expend resources responding to that solicitation. I believe it is irresponsible to encourage such a use of resources when Commission action is unlikely because a federal appeals court has called into significant doubt the legality of the proposal at issue.

1. Texas Office of Public Utility Counsel, et al., v. FCC, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, No. 97-60421, rel. July 30, 1999.