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
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).