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February 16, 2017 by Tom Cohen

Chairman Pai and Universal Service

Chairman Pai has hit the ground running. In the weeks since he took charge of the FCC, he has announced process reforms, pulled back on various proceedings and reports that were priorities of ex-Chairman Wheeler, and told courts to hold off reviewing many pending court cases in which he opposed Commission action. He also has begun to make his mark on the Commission’s universal service programs, questioning approval of a group of Lifeline ETCs to provide broadband service. (His fellow Republican, Commissioner O’Rielly, just questioned use of E-rate funds to overbuild telecommunications providers.) 

The Chairman will have additional opportunities to set his universal service policies next week when the Commission considers and votes on two major universal service proposed orders at its meeting on February 23rd.  One proposed order deals with the long awaited establishment of the Mobility Fund II. Chairman Pai would like to fill in LTE coverage gaps, but he wants to make certain funding is targeted only toward this goal and is not “excessive.” This will have important implications for all wireless providers, especially those that have depended on universal service support. As for the second proposed order, the Commission will finally vote on adopting a methodology to weight the performance tiers for the Connect America Fund Phase II reverse auction. Getting these weights correct is fundamental to having a competitive auction where support is awarded most cost-effectively while giving consumers in unserved areas the best broadband service at that price. In addition, this decision will have precedential value for future auctions, including of possible new infrastructure funding, and thus the stakes are high.

So, you may wait to watch next week’s meeting or at least follow what the Commission adopts. It will provide additional indications of where the Pai Commission is headed.