RTG Says plan runs afoul of Title II and Section 254 of the Communications Act and will harm rural businesses and rural America
Washington, DC – The Rural Telecommunications Group, Inc. (RTG) filed comments supporting the provision of broadband in all regions of the United States as a vital economic driver. However, the FCC’s decision to cap, cut, and eliminate “legacy” universal service fund (USF) support violates Section 254 of the Communications Act of 1934 (Act). Moreover, the FCC lacks the authority under Title II of the Act to transfer these legacy funds to broadband services and providers.
In a “look before you leap” scenario, the FCC has “looked” and recognized extreme doubt for its legal authority to support funding broadband services. However, the FCC has tentatively concluded to take the “leap” of decimating legacy USF anyway. Not only does the FCC lack the legal authority to pursue this plan, its extreme “about face” on universal service will subject it to increased court scrutiny and considerably limited, if any, court deference. Moreover, the FCC’s plan abandons the Act’s balance and emphasis on telecommunications services and providers and violates the overall principles of universal service codified by Congress.
The FCC does not have the authority to fundamentally alter Universal Service emphasis from “telecommunications services” to Broadband
RTG argues that the FCC cannot fundamentally shift the Section 254 universal service emphasis from telecommunications services to broadband, absent Congressional authority. Universal service is defined in the Act as an evolving level of telecommunications services. Further, the Act limits the FCC’s authority to fund broadband services. Specifically, in discussing “supported services” pursuant to Section 254 of the Act, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected the FCC’s attempt to redefine “services” to include services unrelated to telecommunications.
The FCC’s Plan Will Harm Rural Areas In Violation Of Section 254 Of The Act
For decades, small rural providers have relied heavily on USF support as a cost recovery mechanism for their investments in building out modern, high-cost networks, both wireline and mobile, in hard-to-serve rural areas. The FCC’s immediate focus on lower-cost, high-cost areas and eventual focus on higher-cost, high-cost areas will result in support flowing to areas surrounding larger population centers, leaving rural Americans served by genuine rural providers without comparable services at comparable rates, in violation of the Act.
Reducing Support For Wireless Carriers Will Harm The Public And Is Inconsistent With Section 254
The one-time support for deployment of 3G (or better) mobile service from the FCC’s Mobility Fund will prove unavailing to most small, rural wireless providers and fails to recognize the importance of mobility for all Americans. The FCC’s so-called “interim” cap on competitive high-cost support also continues to harm small, wireless providers serving high cost rural areas and should be lifted.
Headquartered in Washington, DC, Rural Telecommunications Group (RTG) is a trade association representing rural wireless carriers who serve less than 100,000 subscribers. RTG’s members have joined together to speed delivery of new, efficient and innovative telecommunications technologies to remote and underserved communities. www.ruraltelecomgroup.org
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