Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski has announced the creation of a Universal Service Working Group aimed at implementing reforms outlined in the National Broadband Plan. Heading up the group will be Sharon Gillett, chief of the FCC’s wireline competition bureau.
In a blog post, Gillett said the group will include representatives from the consumer and government affairs bureau, the office of the general counsel, the office of the managing director, the international bureau, the office of strategic planning, and the wireless telecommunications bureau, in addition to the wireline competition bureau.
“It’s an axiom that broadband breaks down barriers, an axiom that is true at the FCC as well,” she wrote in the blog.
The new group will have plenty of work to do to accomplish its goals, including balancing the interests of a wide range of stakeholders. Although many people throughout the telecom industry support the plan to transition today’s Universal Service fund to a broadband fund, the plan to support broadband at speeds of only 4 MB/s has come under attack from rural telcos, who say that speed is not sufficient for rural markets.
The National Broadband Plan also proposes the creation of a mobility fund aimed at helping to bring mobile broadband to areas where it has not been widely deployed, so the participation of the wireless bureau is no surprise. And having someone representing the general counsel is probably a good idea, considering that the FCC’s authority to create a broadband fund has been questioned.
Chairman Genachowski hopes to establish FCC authority over broadband through his “third way” proposal, but that faces opposition from large telcos who fear the FCC will use authority over broadband to impose net neutrality requirements.
In announcing the Universal Service Working Group, Genachowski reiterated the importance of cost control, hinting that small telcos could have a big battle ahead as they attempt to persuade regulators not to transition them from rate of return accounting to a price cap approach.
“This agency-wide effort reflects the FCC’s commitment to smart and fiscally prudent policies that eliminate inefficiencies and target universal service support effectively to have the greatest possible impact,” Genachowski said.