Text Version

Statement of Chairman

Reed E. Hundt

The Commission's votes today on items labelled universal service and access reform follow our vote last August on interconnection, and complete the trilogy of major actions implementing the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Many, many other decisions have been made on the way, but we plainly have reached the end of phase one of the Act: the replacement of pro-monopoly rules with pro-competition rules, while at the same time extending our country's commitment to provide affordable telecommnications access to all consumers, kids, teachers, patients, and doctors.

It has been a long, wide-ranging trip for the Commission since the Act was signed in February 1996. Congress asked us to overhaul in its entirety the national policies that apply to the communications industry. We have received nearly 200,000 pages of comments, millions of Internet "hits," hundreds of thousands of emails, thousands of letters written by working men and women on kitchen tables late at night, and had hundreds of meetings with teachers, doctors, Congressmen, Senators, lobbyists, lawyers, businesspersons, and citizens. The dedicated civil servants at the agency have worked impossibly long hours and made many, many personal sacrifices. I am immensely grateful to them, and the country owes them a tremendous debt.

The work has been arduous, but it has been a joy. Throughout the process we have believed that Congress gave us a high calling --write the policies for the communications sector that will lead America into the 21st century -- and we have considered it a privilege to play our part.

Today's items mark the end of the beginning of our deregulatory, procompetitive rule-writing.

By our decisions today we

--assure that local basic residential telephone service prices need not be increased by any action of the Commission or Congress, although industry achieved consensus in urging us specifically to increase local service prices by raising the residential subscriber line charge.

--guarantee that long distance prices will fall, and specifically that basic schedule customers will see their first general price decreases since 1989.

--generate economic benefits to business and residential consumers exceeding $25 billion during the next five years (making this the single best day for consumers in this agency's history).

--begin to reduce unnecessary subsidies on multiple phone lines.

--mark the beginning of a new policy for a national data network that is based on the fundamental precept that Internet services could be in a "subsidy-free zone" -- such that internet communication neither relies on nor gives a subsidy.

--assure that all rural telephone companies will be supported in their mission of assuring affordable service to all Americans in high cost areas.

--craft an interstate access pricing policy that invites a greater breadth of competitive entry into the local exchange market.

--create a funding mechanism that will combine national and state monies to connect every classroom in the country to the information highway.

--connect every rural health care facility in the country to the information highway.

I have attached to this statement certain representative models of the impact of today's votes on certain customers. There is no guarantee that every consumer will believe that he or she is better off as a result of today's decisions. I firmly believe, however, that as a result of today's decisions the overwhelming majority will buy more communications services with their money or will pay less for the same services they buy today. As competition makes more significant inroads in telecommunications markets these results will be increasingly dramatic.

I believe further that the replacement of the regime of monopoly with the new paradigm of competition will lead to productivity gains, job growth, investment increases,and the continuing vitality of the American economy. It is not too much to hope that our commitment to a de-regulatory, pro-competitive rule of law in our communications sector will play a significant role in persuading all nations to take this step. The triumph of the World Trade Organization negotiations on telecommunications in February makes this hope, in my view, a substantial likelihood. We can all dream that as a result world economic growth -- driven by the spread of an accessible, ubiquitous communications network -- is on the verge of massive acceleration. Nothing could be more inspiring than the vision of major progress in the global fight against poverty, disease, and misery. Nothing less than that is at stake in our effort to spark sustained, significant, competition-driven growth in our communications and information sector, as ordered by Congress in the landmark Telecommunicatons Act of 1996.

On a personal note, many years ago I had a conversation with then-Senator Al Gore about his wish to see a schoolgirl in Carthage, Tennessee be able to learn from the limitless resources of the Library of Congress, without being barred by time, distance, and lack of money from such opportunities. He explained to me -- and this was long before the Internet was invented -- that fiber optic cable would make the connection between the schoolgirl and a bright future.

From this conversation came this Commission's desire to include classroom connections as an essential goal of universal service. President Clinton in several State of the Union speeches and many other appearances mobilized a national commitment to this goal. And as Vice President, Al Gore has never let a week, or perhaps a day, go by without working to bring to every schoolchild the opportunity to learn on the information highway -- a term he coined.

Thanks to the untiring efforts of Senators Snowe, Rockefeller, Exxon, Kerrey, Hollings, Congressman Markey, Secretary of Education Riley, and many others the Commission was given the legislative mandate to fund connections to every one of two million classrooms in all 100,000 schools in our country. School groups from all over the country supported these congressional initiatives and then pursued their implementation in our rules.

Today, at last, after three and one-half years of work, we can say that we have by law and rule a fully funded national commitment and national plan to connect every classroom to the information highway. We recognize that curriculum reform, teacher training, computer acquisition, software development, private foundation guidance, and much else remains to be done in order to bring the benefits of the communications revolution to the students and teachers of America.

Yet we are proud we have come this far. The Commission has delivered the result our children deserve, and I am completely delighted to have been a part of this process.

I want to acknowledge with a depth of gratitude and respect that words cannot express to all the colleagues and friends inside and outside the Commission who have helped us find our way in these decisions. Others will forgive me if I mention here only those who have been associated with my personal office team on these items: Blair Levin,John Nakahata, Karen Brinkmann, Ruth Milkman, Diane Cornell, Renee Licht, Jackie Chorney, Julius Genachowski, Tom Boasberg, Ruth Dancey, Cozette Ballestros, Monica Lizama, Aiysha Coates, Vanessa Lemme, Judith Mann, Terry Matsumoto, Laverne Braddy . It has been an enormous pleasure and honor to work with you.