Senate Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller is pushing the Federal Communications Commission to reform the Universal Service Fund. In some ways he is preaching to the choir.
Reform of the fund was one of the first elements of the National Broadband Plan unveiled by the FCC under chairman Julius Genachowski. But Rockefeller injected a very personal sense of urgency in a letter Aug. 2 to the chairman.
He cited the April explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in his home state that killed 29 people. He said the explosion exposed a "troubling lack of communications facilities in rural communities." He made a similar point to the chairman in an oversight hearing on the broadband plan earlier this year.
Rockefeller said the disaster might be unique to mining states, but similar disasters like floods, hurricanes, tornadoes or terrorist acts can be worsened by "inadequate communications infrastructure."
Rockefeller said that while the law directs the FCC to provide rural areas with telecom and information access that is reasonably comparable to urban areas, "the current system has missed the mark," shortchanging residents of his state and elsewhere and failing to provide the service that the law requires.
The problem has been exacerbated, he said, by an FCC system based on the size and regulatory classification of the carrier rather than the area.
Rep. Rick Boucher (R-Va.) two weeks ago introduced a bill to reform the fund.