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July 17, 1997

Separate Statement
Commissioner Susan Ness

Regarding Administration of Universal Service Mechanisms

Today's order is another important step in our effort to ensure the fulfillment of the universal service objectives established by Congress. With major changes in the universal service system scheduled to become operational January 1, 1998, it is vital that we clear the way for implementation to begin.

Our order appoints NECA as the universal service administrator and provides for the creation of new organizations and procedures that are intended to ensure that the collection and distribution of universal service support is accomplished with efficiency and accountability. While we all have independent views on the structures and processes that would best serve these goals, what matters most at this critical time is to get the process underway. Unnecessary controversy or delay does not serve the interests of low-income consumers, consumers in high-cost areas, students, library users, or rural health care patients.

In my judgment, successful administration of the universal service programs has less to do with the precise structures and processes employed than with the quality of the people involved. Finding the people with the right skills and the necessary dedication to perform functions specific to the schools and libraries program, for example, is obviously essential, but I am at a loss to understand why this task will be more difficult, or time-consuming, as a result of our decision to assign these tasks to a separate corporation rather than a special subcommittee of the Universal Service Administrative Company (as our dissenting colleague now advocates) or a subcontractor to USAC (as the Joint Board had earlier recommended). But having carefully considered all three options, I have come to believe that in this respect we are making the choice that best serves our shared goals.

Use of separate corporations will ensure that the appropriate expertise is targeted to discrete and defined tasks. Decisionmaking will be streamlined, and bureaucracy reduced. This approach will also facilitate direct oversight by and accountability to this Commission, which in turn must account to the Congress and to the American people for the effective administration of the universal service programs. Efficient and cost-effective operations can be ensured by enabling the universal service entities to concentrate on what they do best, and to share resources whenever doing so will be consistent with efficient, responsible, and cost- effective operations.

I would make no claim of perfection about the structure and processes and plans reflected in this order, even if my own preferences had been, or could be, accommodated at every turn. The plain fact, however, is that universal service administration, like the universal service rules, will necessarily evolve over time. We don't have all the answers today. We will know more later, but only if we get the process underway now.

We can and should adjust our plans as we -- along with industry and beneficiary groups -- learn from experience. For today, our task is to move forward constructively to get workable administrative mechanisms up and running.