Three organizations representing small rural telcos late last week filed a petition for reconsideration and clarification with the Federal Communications Commission on various aspects of the Universal Service and inter-carrier compensation reform order adopted late last year. Signing the petition were the Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies (OPASTCO), the Western Telecommunications Alliance (WTA) and the National Exchange Carrier Association (NECA).

Notably, the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA), which often joins the other rural telco associations on joint filings, did not participate in the petition—perhaps because the NTCA is pursuing a legal challenge to the USF reform order instead.

OPASTCO, the WTA and NECA are asking the FCC to reconsider three key areas:

  1. The order does not address how broadband Universal Service funding to rate-of-return carriers would be allocated, yet it imposes new service mandates (i.e., the deployment of broadband services). “The commission should make sure sufficient and predictable funding is in place before imposing new service mandates,” the announcement about the filing states.
  2. The commission should reconsider or modify plans to cap high-cost support, to establish a “reasonably comparable” rate floor and to phase out safety net additive support.
  3. The commission should reconsider its approach to examining petitions for waiver of new rules and support limitations and reduce the burdens on small companies associated with new reporting requirements. “Changes are needed to the commission’s method for prescribing a new interstate authorized rate of return, as well as several of the ICC provisions of the order,” the announcement states. With regard to ICC provisions, the rural telco associations are asking the FCC specifically to:
  • provide a reasonable opportunity for ROR carriers to recover interstate costs allocated to switched access rate elements
  • base ROR baseline interstate revenue requirements on actual cost studies rather than tariff forecasts
  • include tandem/transit costs in reciprocal compensation calculations
  • clarify ICC requirements for VOIP traffic, including the definition of “toll” VOIP traffic

In comments made in the announcement about the filing, representatives of rural carrier associations emphasized the negative impact that planned FCC moves could have on rural broadband deployment and rural economies.

“We ask that the FCC reconsider and clarify several of these rules to ensure continued broadband investment, encourage economic development and secure jobs in rural areas,” said Jeff Dupree, NECA vice president of government relations.

Without the requested modifications, “it is our belief that the order will limit investment rather than promote it,” said Derrick Owens, WTA vice president of government affairs.

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