NEWS April 15, 1997
In a speech before a conference of the Friends of the National Library of Medicine and the Partnerships for Networked Consumer Health Information, FCC Chairman Reed Hundt said today that he expects the Commission to adopt a comprehensive universal service plan at its meeting scheduled for May 6. Speaking at Georgetown University, Hundt said the Commission's May 6 decision would be "on time and I hope on target. [T]he FCC will deliver a detailed, comprehensive and complete decision to connect all the groups and locations Congress wants connected. That's why we must vote to connect classrooms and clinics, to keep rates affordable in rural America and to get people with disabilities on the network."
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 directed the FCC to develop a plan for universal service based on a series of principles including quality service at "just, reasonable and affordable rates," services for rural, insular and high-cost area consumers at rates "reasonably comparable to those in urban areas," affordable access to telecommunications services for schools and classrooms and libraries, and rates for rural health care providers that are reasonably comparable to those paid in urban areas.
Hundt said the Commission also needs to work with the states to address the question of the costing methodologies that will determine the size of the universal service fund. "On a long term basis, a sustainable national universal service plan requires coordination with the states and reaction to the unveiling of competition. For that reason, we intend over the course of the coming year to reconvene the federal-state universal service Joint Board."
In the area of "telehealth," Hundt said that the universal service policy will greatly reduce the vast differences faced by rural health care providers and their urban counterparts in telecommunications costs. More affordable telecommunications rates will encourage the growth of telehealth in rural areas, where it can often be of especially great value.
Hundt also spoke to one specific issue of health and safety, hard-liquor advertisements on television and radio. "The FCC has a duty to make sure that the public airwaves are used in the public interest," Hundt said today. "Some want us to ignore the potential safety and health hazards that the use of airwaves by hard liquor advertisers might pose to underage drinkers. The President doesn't agree. He wants us to take a hard look at hard liquor ads. I agree. I believe that the Commission should have a Notice of Inquiry that would allow us to get the facts from all concerned parties."