Barton Blasts FCC Over Universal Service Fund

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Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, says the FCC should forget about
reclassifying broadband and concentrate on reforming the high-cost portion of the Universal Service Fund, which industry
pays into to subsidize phone service in areas where it is uneconomical to provide it.

That came in response to the posting by committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) of FCC-supplied breakdowns on how, where and to whom the $8 billion in the fund was being handed out. According to the FCC stats, Verizon and AT&T were the biggest recipients of high-cost USF funds over the past three years at $1.3 billion and $1.275 billion, respectively

"The FCC is not only wasting time chasing a network neutrality ‘problem' that doesn't exist," said Barton in an e-mailed statement, "it is wasting Americans' money by failing to reform the Universal Service Fund. Subscribers now pay close to 14% of their long-distance phone bills to subsidize scores of telephone providers in each geographic market while other providers are serving the same markets without a penny of support."

To be fair, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has signaled he wants to do both: reclassify broadband and reform USF. He has pointed out on more than one occasion that the agency can do more than one thing at a time. As part of the broadband plan, the FCC has proposed reforming the fund in two senses of the word, both in terms of its performance and transparency, and remaking it into a subsidy for broadband, rather than phone, deployment.

FCC general counsel Austin Schlick has also pointed out that the commission may not be able to do all it wants to do on USF reform without the clearer broadband regulatory authority they are seeking with reclassification.

But Barton isn't buying that: "It is inexcusable that the FCC chairman is trying to reclassify broadband service under the pretext that the commission lacks authority to implement aspects of the national broadband plan when he should instead be focusing on bipartisan aspects of the plan that he clearly has authority to move on, such as reducing antiquated voice service subsidies."

The chairman's office offered no comment on Barton's critique.

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