A Senate panel took up debate on one of the central planks of the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband plan Thursday morning, but as with many of the commission’s recent activities, much of the debate turned on a controversial proposal to re-impose regulatory oversight of the Internet services sector.
According to this report on Datamation, the nominal focus of the hearing was the Universal Service Fund, the $9 billion federal subsidy to bring low-cost telephone service to low-income and rural Americans. The three commissioners who appeared at today’s hearing — two Democrats and one Republican — and senators of both parties agreed that the fund is in sore need of an overhaul to divert money away from telephone service and toward broadband access.
“In the second of two panels at today’s hearing, representatives of rural carriers outlined their objections to the FCC’s plan. They expressed concerns that it would leave them short of the critical funding needed to reach remote households and businesses far off the beaten path where there isn’t a viable business case to extend service.
“But in the context of the broader policy debate in which the FCC is currently embroiled, those objections seemed almost an afterthought, evidenced by the precipitous drop-off in attendance among the senators following the first panel of testimony from the commissioners.
“That controversy stems from the proceeding the FCC initiated last week that could pave the way for reclassifying broadband as a regulated telecommunications service under federal communications law.”