updated 11:10 am EST, Tue November 4, 2008
FCC Delays Voice Rate Vote
The FCC on Tuesday delayed (Word document) a crucial vote on the Intercarrier Compensation and Universal Service Fund that would potentially have had a significant impact on the costs of non-network phone calls and roaming in the US. The delay comes after all FCC Commissioners save for Chairman Kevin Martin demanded more time for public commentary and was supported by a group of activist groups and smaller carriers that objected to the proposed moves.
Martin's proposed moves would simplify the structure used to determine what carriers pay to each other to connect to or use each other's networks for calls. Much of the complex payment system would be eliminated and would cost less overall, but has been criticized by CenturyTel and other predominantly rural carriers as favoring incumbents like AT&T and Verizon as it would significantly shrink the amount of money paid into supporting smaller carriers that otherwise can't remain competitive due to their inherently reduced subscriber levels.
The delay for the USF vote stalls a plan that would have shifted the $7 billion fund more towards providing broadband Internet access in the countryside and less towards supporting standard phone service.
Verizon has already issued an objection to the FCC's move, arguing that customers would "lose out" if the US government body didn't approve the changes and claiming that there have been multiple opportunities for comment.
The FCC still has important votes ahead and is under pressure to complete as many as possible before the transition of power following US elections, which may switch to a Democrat executive branch and institute a significant change in telecoms policy. A vote on white space Internet is scheduled for today that could see unlicensed, long-range wireless data made available in the US, while additional votes will address compensation for rural dial-up Internet and will determine whether Verizon can acquire Alltel.