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This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action. See MCI v. FCC. 515 F 2d 385 (D.C. Circ 1974).

June 8, 2000


Re: Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service; Promoting Deployment ad Subscribership in Unserved and Underserved Areas, Including Tribal and Insular Areas (CC Docket No. 96-45)

Like my colleagues, I wholeheartedly support the decision to begin addressing the incredibly low rates at which American Indians and Alaska Natives living on tribal lands currently subscribe to basic telephone service. Pursuant to Section 254 of the Act, we are duty-bound to promote the availability of phone service to all Americans.

Even before the 1996 Act was passed, the historic universal service policies of this Commission and state commissions had yielded a remarkable rate of telephone subscribership, well above 90% for the country nationwide. And yet according to statistics obtained from the 1990 Census, subscribership among certain populations languishes: subscribership among the rural poor falls roughly 20% behind that of the nation as a whole, and American Indians living on tribal lands are only half as likely as other Americans to subscribe to phone service.

The Commission cannot turn a blind eye to these enormous disparities; we have an affirmative duty, at a minimum, to investigate and understand these disparities. Moreover, if these disparities result from factors that we cannot tolerate under section 254, we must take steps to reduce these disparities. That is why I support the vast majority of the measures we adopt today. Among other things, I generally support expanding the eligibility criteria of our low income universal service programs to include income-dependent eligibility criteria employed in programs in which poor tribal members are more likely to participate.

I also support requiring carriers receiving Lifeline and Link Up support to publicize the availability of such support in a manner that is likely to reach poor tribal members. In addition, I support establishing more effective procedures by which carriers not subject to state commission jurisdiction may seek designation as telecommunications carriers eligible to receive universal service support. With Indian subscribership statistics like those before us, I agree that we must do something.

But as a government agency, the Commission cannot do just anything, no matter how well-intended or politically-appealing. We must take action based on an adequate record and a thorough and logical examination of what that record does and does not tell us. Further, we need to balance carefully the interests of those who would benefit directly from our actions against the interests of those who would be affected indirectly. I believe it is incumbent upon me to carry out these responsibilities even when my personal sympathies would allow me to accept a weaker justification for our actions.

I regret that, given the state of the draft recommendation and the record before us today, I cannot conclude that the Commission has satisfied its responsibility to substantiate narrow portions of today’s decision, and thus I must regretfully dissent in part. As we have stated on a number of occasions, universal service funding should be “sufficient” to satisfy the statute, but should not be more than is necessary.

Yet, here, we have failed to show why increases in Lifeline funding are in fact necessary. Commenters noted that one central problem on tribal lands is that residents fail to avail themselves of the existing Lifeline program, thereby leaving money to which they should be eligible on the table. The reason identified is that tribal members often do not participate in the state and federal government programs that we use as proxies for low income (e.g., social security, federal housing assistance, etc.). Instead, many of these individuals subscribe to programs administered by tribal governments.

It is entirely possible that establishing new and more appropriate proxies for income, which we do in this item, will sufficiently offset the cost of service and, consequently, increase penetration, without adding new money to the program. The record simply does not offer any solid basis for actually expanding the program given this possibility. To expand the program without substantiation of need contravenes the limiting principle we purport to abide by when considering expansion of funding.

As always, I remain open to being persuaded that expanding funding in the manner contemplated in today’s decision is necessary to improve Indian subscribership. But that will require more time, explanation and credible data than could reasonably be provided today. Rather than request that this unfinished Order be pulled from today’s agenda meeting and postponed, I defer to my colleagues who felt that no more justification was needed for the actions we take today. To the extent I am later persuaded to change the views I express now, I would consider doing so either in the context of the Order itself or upon reconsideration. . - FCC -