- Telecom Committee Adopts USF/ICC Resolution
- NARUC Board Tables Controversial Merger Resolution
- Multi-Committee Adoption of Smart Grid Resolution
- USTelecom NARUC Working Group
This year's NARUC Summer Committee Meeting was held in Los Angeles, California and focused on many topics of interest to the telecommunications community. As is typical for these NARUC events, attendees included state commissioners and their staff as well as a significant contingent of participants representing USTelecom member companies. The summer meetings focus largely around resolutions where NARUC committees give consideration to timely issues and concerns to state regulators and often hear panelists debate the issues in advance of Committee policy deliberations. The meetings also provide an important opportunity for event participants to network and engage in individual or small group discussions where different viewpoints can be examined and new ideas presented in less formal settings. Topics of interest this summer included many long-standing themes including panels and resolutions on Smart Grid, Universal Service and Intercarrier Compensation, and Broadband Adoption.
With the swirl of activity around proposals for USF/ICC reform, the NARUC Telecom Committee endorsed a resolution titled "[R]esolution Strongly Endorsing Proposals Submitted on Universal Service Reform by the State Members of the Federal State Joint Board on Universal Service." Several commissioners expressed concerns based on speculation as to the contents of an industry reform plan claiming that it would pre-empt state jurisdiction over intrastate access charges and leave rural carriers with inadequate resources to remain economically viable going forward. For the majority of committee members, any proposal that might be perceived to constrain state jurisdiction was likely to meet defeat. While USTelecom and our members made a very serious effort to explain the rational for reform activities including the need to modernize the USF and ICC mechanisms to achieve the National Broadband Plan goal for universal broadband access, when it came to voting in support of the resolution, the industry message fell largely on deaf ears.
In what may best be described as an industry win in extra innings, the NARUC Board of Directors voted 18-8 to table a resolution that was sponsored by District of Columbia Public Utility Commission Chair Betty Ann Kane and approved by a 7-4 vote in the Telecom Committee. The resolution made reference to numerous prior mergers that had been approved by the FCC and noted that the agency had not established a monitoring or reporting requirement that would "publicly demonstrate" compliance with those commitments. It went further and recommended that the FCC, as part of future merger conditions, require companies to file semi-annual, publicly available progress reports.
Clearly, the most problematic and controversial component of the resolution related to the provision that called for the FCC to "prohibit the use of or reliance on federal Universal Service Fund financial support… where an applicant has agreed to or is required to meet its prior or future merger application public interest commitments to deploy broadband infrastructure and/or to implement broadband adoption and usage programs." Robert Mayer, USTelecom's Vice-President for Industry and State Affairs, was invited by the committee Chairman John Burke to address the committee and explain why our members objected to this resolution. Mayer explained that the resolution was fundamentally unfair in that it called for ex post facto adjustments on mergers conditions that were already settled with federal and state agencies that had jurisdiction. Mayer explained that from a business perspective, companies made those commitments based on their economic models which in many cases included assumptions about the availability of USF funds. While the resolution passed the committee, the NARUC Board of Directors took the unusual step of vetoing the resolution focusing in large part on what many perceived as an inappropriate condemnation of the FCC.
Perhaps no other subject in recent years has attracted as much broad committee interest and participation as Smart Grid. With significant infrastructure, technology, consumer and economic interests at stake, it is easy to understand how the NARUC Consumer, Electricity, Critical Infrastructure and Telecommunications committees all felt a need to weigh in on Smart Grid issues that come before their committees. And while the nature of the Smart Grid is integrally related to the integration of new information and communications technologies, the interests of the electric utility sector often dominate the discussions and policy proposals within NARUC. In the case of the resolution that was ultimately adopted by all involved committees in Los Angeles, our industry had some success in securing language that acknowledged the role of commercial service providers and the important of empowering consumers by ensuring that they have access to their own energy usage data. However, the states generally had limited appreciation for the fundamental concern that we expressed regarding the implications of disparate state rules on such matters as interoperability, privacy, and cyber security standards. The resolution provided only muted encouragement to coordinate with federal entities and does little to discourage states from developing state-specific requirements that will add cost and delay innovation for many of our members who have an interest in the supporting the broad array of Smart Grid applications.
USTelecom works with our members through the NARUC Working Group to ensure that we coordinate industry strategy and messaging on all panel and resolution activities both before and during the actual meetings. The group confers regularly to discuss the issues that are likely to be considered at upcoming meetings and works to coordinate who best can represent the industry on particular panels and at committee sessions where industry is invited to speak on a particular issue or resolution. USTelecom is often asked to participate on a panel or represent a position on resolutions as a way of signaling significant industry consensus. The NARUC working group conducts bi-weekly calls and monitors developments in the various staff subcommittees and committees that might impact upcoming resolutions. As the resolutions are identified, the NARUC Working Group will work to provide educational material to inform key influencers on the committees and once a resolution is drafted, the working group discusses strategies and often will provide red-lines suggestions to improve a particular resolution. The Working Group has been very successful over the years in securing helpful amendments on resolutions by ensuring that we present a consistent and unified industry message. Robert Mayer, Vice President of Industry and State Affairs leads the work of the USTelecom NARUC Working Group. If you have any questions or interests in participating in this group, please contact Robert at 202-326-7221 or rmayer@USTelecom.org .
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