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Separate Statement
Commissioner Susan Ness

Re: Changes to the Board of Directors of the National Exchange Carrier Association, Inc.; Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service (CC Docket Nos. 97-21, 96-45)

I support today's decision to adopt modifications to the rural health care support mechanism that will streamline administrative processes and enhance the overall program. I care deeply about the success of the rural health care program and have been concerned that our efforts have thus far not been as fruitful as they could have been. We need to do more to ensure that the universal service provisions of the Telecommunications Act are implemented as Congress envisioned. More specifically, we need to ensure that our rural areas -- in this instance rural health care providers -- have access to telecommunications services "at rates that are reasonably comparable to rates charged for similar services in urban areas."(1)

With respect to the companion order on eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs), I support the Commission's decision to reconsider the ETC requirement. Based on comments filed in this proceeding, it is clear to me that the ETC requirement we adopted previously created significant barriers for the rural health care providers that were meant to benefit under the program. Although our earlier decision reflected a prudent approach based on our knowledge at that time, I believe that the expanded interpretation of the rural health care provisions is supported by the statutory language and reflects policy determinations that will better effectuate the goals of the 1996 Act.

For these reasons, I vote in favor of both reconsideration orders, and I am optimistic that our actions today will infuse new life into the rural health care program.

1    47 U.S.C. 254(h)(1)(A).