A plan by six major carriers to alter the Universal Service Fund won the support of seven Republican and Democratic senators in a letter they sent to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski on Thursday. In the message, the group urged the FCC to approve a plan that "maintains key elements of the ABC and Joint Rural Association framework." The carriers offered their plan under the banner of America's Broadband Connectivity.
Rural telecoms, in their comments to the FCC about a National Broadband Plan, said ISPs should contribute to the Universal Service Fund, which would subsidize the network buildout. The FCC is trying to determine the exact meaning of the term "broadband."
Members of the Senate Commerce Committee questioned FCC Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate during a hearing Tuesday on Universal Service Fund reform. Tate, who is also chairwoman of the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service, testified before the committee, as did executives from several telecom firms.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said he supports a shift toward a "technology-neutral" approach to the Universal Service Fund that collects fees using a "numbers-based approach." Congress is expected to take up the issue of USF reform beginning next year as it grapples with the growth of IP telephony.
The FCC may at some point in the near future require VoIP providers that use public-switched phone networks to pay into the Universal Service Fund. Many big VoIP providers such as Vonage already impose charges linked to the USF, but smaller providers have been able to avoid the fees because the FCC hasn't clarified the issue.