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April 10, 1998

Separate Statement of Commissioner Gloria Tristani

Re: Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service, Report to Congress

Today's Report to Congress makes a number of important observations regarding the preservation and enhancement of universal service. I write separately to identify several areas of particular interest to me.

While I support this Report, I have not yet concluded whether last year's decision concerning the share of federal high cost funding (the 25/75 issue) is the best approach. Many people, especially a number of state commissioners, have worked diligently since adoption of last year's Universal Service Order to consider how the FCC and state commissions could achieve our shared goals in ways that may vary the current approach. The participants in those efforts have actively sought to build consensus among those with different viewpoints on the 25/75 issue. I strongly support those efforts and encourage all interested parties, especially state commissions, to participate in this dialogue over the next few months. The thinking on this issue continues to advance, and all parties would be well-served by re-engaging the Commission and each other in this dialogue. Disagreement over policy is expected, but I would hope that criticism of the current approach will be accompanied by alternative solutions.

I also support the manner in which the Report addresses phone-to-phone IP telephony and the issue of self-provisioned telecommunications. The Commission has historically favored policies aimed at fostering the growth of enhanced services, including Internet access. The Commission's decisions affecting the Internet -- most notably the ESP exemption and the Computer Inquiry line of decisions -- have to be considered among the agency's greatest contributions to the public interest. As we continue our evaluation of this issue in the near future, I will keep firmly in mind the enormous benefits that have resulted from the philosophy underlying those decisions. I am confident that the Commission can continue that philosophy while being faithful to the letter and spirit of the universal service provisions of the Act.

I believe this proceeding has been a valuable undertaking by the Commission. I believe the Commission's understanding of IP telephony as it relates to the framework of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 has been greatly enhanced by our work on this Report. And as a result of this Report, the Commission expects to take additional action in the near future that would address whether specific types of IP telephony fall within the Act's definition of "telecommunications service." In addition, as a result of this Report, we have opened an important discussion that will consider whether entities that self-provide telecommunications should be required to impute the value of that telecommunications and contribute to universal service based on those revenues. These are important steps in fulfilling the goals of section 254.

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