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September 17, 1998


Re: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, In the Matter of Truth-in-Billing and Billing Format (CC Docket No. 98-170)

I write separately to express my firm support for the Commission taking steps to give customers accurate, meaningful information in a format they can understand. Indeed, the proper functioning of a competitive market depends on consumers having such information. As a telephone customer and purported expert on telecommunications regulation, I am often personally confounded by my bill. On these bases, I am pleased that we are initiating this proceeding.

For future reference, however, I should underscore one point. It is my sincere expectation that the proposal to adopt "safe harbor" language for use by carriers who choose to recover their universal service contributions and access charge costs through explicit line items on customers bills not degenerate into an effort to pressure long distance companies, even indirectly, to remove such line items. I believe this Notice is sensitive to this point, and, based on the development of this Notice, I have every confidence that this sensitivity will be carried throughout the proceeding. In another context, I have detailed my concerns about efforts to pressure carriers to remove line items and any suggestion that carriers are guilty of fraud or misrepresentation simply because they inform their customers that a component of their payments will be used to recover contributions mandated by the government.(1) Cost recovery issues involving universal service and access charges are highly technical and hotly contested. Legitimate arguments in this debate have been raised by both sides and I, for one, have not resolved which arguments are most persuasive, nor have I concluded whether the "safe harbor" approach is wise or even useful. I encourage commenters to address whether the adoption of safe harbor language would prompt carriers to present their side of the story, thereby subjecting consumers to conflicting arguments that may do nothing to reduce their confusion.

Having expressed these expectations, I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that consumers have access to knowledge that will truly help them make more informed buying decisions.

1. 1 See generally Separate Statement of Commissioner Michael K. Powell, Dissenting, Report in Response to Senate Bill 1768 and Conference Report on H.R. 3579 (May 8, 1998). I recognize that the Commission did not mandate explicit cost recovery for universal service contributions from end users, but it did expressly allow it. Moreover, although the method of recovery is not mandatory, the underlying costs and contributions are incurred as a result of government-mandated programs, and I believe carriers do have a right to make that known to their customers.