|Re:||Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service, Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Report and Order, CC Docket No. 96-45 et al.|
I am pleased to join in approving this item, which seeks comment on proposals to alter our universal service contribution methodology. Maintaining the stability of the universal service contribution system is one of the Commission's most important responsibilities. Congress codified this responsibility in section 254 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which requires the Commission to, among other things, ensure there are specific, predictable, and sufficient support mechanisms to preserve and advance universal service. See 47 U.S.C. § 254(b)(5). I am firmly committed to carrying out this directive and to fulfilling Congress' goals of ensuring affordable telecommunications services and access to advanced services in all regions of the nation. See id. § 254(b).
To fulfill this responsibility, the Commission today issues a notice reevaluating the contribution methodology. As consumers migrate to new products and services, we may need new methods for assessing universal service contributions. Accordingly, I welcome consideration of novel and different proposals of how to assess universal service contributions.
While we consider these comprehensive reforms, however, I believe it may be important to take some immediate steps. For example, AT&T has complained that assessing contribution obligations on past revenues, as the system currently does, unfairly penalizes carriers with declining revenues and unfairly benefits those with increasing revenues. I believe we should take action on AT&T's waiver request, which seeks to allow AT&T to pay its contributions based on projected rather than past revenue. Whether we make changes along these lines or some other alterations to the current system, I believe some short term adjustments may be warranted.
I also wish to highlight one issue for comment. In weighing the various proposals, we must make sure that "[a]ll providers of telecommunications services . . . make an equitable and nondiscriminatory contribution to the preservation and advancement of universal service." 47 U.S.C. § 254(b)(4). We must also follow the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit's holding that the Communications Act prohibits the Commission from assessing contributions on intrastate revenue. See Texas Office of Public Utility Counsel v. FCC, 183 F.3d 393, 448 (5th Cir. 1999). I thus think it is crucial that parties comment on how the different proposals comply with both of these limitations.
Finally, I wish to emphasize the importance of participation by the states in this proceeding. We welcome comments from the state commissions, and we have committed to seeking input from the Universal Service Joint Board before making any significant changes to the contribution methodology. I am confident that we could do so in a manner that does not cause any unnecessary delay.