NTIA letter, Joint Petition by Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, Pacific Bell and Nevada Bell To Stay the Commission's Universal Service Order
The Honorable Reed E. Hundt
Federal Communications Commission
1919 M Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554
Re: Joint Petition by Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, Pacific Bell and Nevada Bell To Stay the Commission's Universal Service Order, CC Docket No. 96-45
Dear Chairman Hundt:
On July 3, 1997, SBC Communications Inc., on behalf of its telephone operating companies, petitioned the Commission for a stay of its May 8 Universal Service Order pending judicial review.(1) Specifically, SBC asks the Commission to hold in abeyance those portions of the order that (1) provide Federal support for connecting schools and libraries to advanced communications services and (2) ensure that low-income households will not lose access to local telephone service because of their difficulties in paying for long distance service.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) urges the Commission to deny SBC's petition in all respects. In the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress charged the Commission (working in conjunction with State regulatory commissions) to fashion a new framework for preserving and advancing universal telephone service, a long-standing national commitment. At the same time, Congress established, and directed the Commission to implement a new universal service program -- to provide America's schools and libraries with reasonably priced access to essential telecommunications services.
The Commission's May 8 order accomplishes both of those objectives. It resulted, moreover, from an exhaustive examination of the issues by the Commission and a Federal-State Joint Board, close cooperation between Federal and State regulators, and extensive discussions between government and all segments of the telecommunications industry. The order defines a fair and measured universal service program that is wholly consistent with the blueprint and organizing principles established by Congress in the 1996 Act. A stay of that order would plainly disserve the public interest.
That is particularly true for the portions of the order that SBC specifically targets. Some 28 States, for example, have reportedly adopted the Commission program for providing discounted services and connections to schools and libraries. See Communications Daily, July 23, 1997 at 2. The Commission, States, educational organizations and others are now working together to implement that program. A stay of the May 8 order would introduce confusion and uncertainty into that process, threatening achievement of the important goal of connecting U.S. schools and libraries to advanced telecommunications services.
Staying the Commission's order also would hinder efforts to promote the affordability of basic telephone service to low-income households, an essential element of any universal service program. Available evidence indicates that the policies adopted in the order (and challenged by SBC), such as a bar on the disconnection of local service for nonpayment of long distance charges, will significantly assist low-income households obtain and retain telephone service.
The Commission's May 8 order adopts policies and mechanisms for promoting and advance universal services that are rationally-based and consistent with the structure that Congress mandated. It should therefore be implemented promptly. Its effect should certainly not be suspended during the course of a judicial appeal that will likely culminate in the order's affirmation.
Thank you for considering these views.
cc: Commissioner James H. Quello
Commissioner Rachelle B. Chong
Commissioner Susan Ness
1. Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service, Report and Order, CC Docket No. 96-45, FCC 97-157 (rel. May 8, 1997).