Broadband Funding Inquiry and NPRM finally revealed


Under cover of the press coverage about the “Options for Broadcast Spectrum” report, and “Engineering Forum” invited speaker list furor last week, the FCC finally, and as quietly as possible, made publicly available the full text of a related “Notice of Inquiry and Notice of Proposed Rule Making” (Inquiry & NPRM) regarding shifting the focus of the nearly $9 billion Universal Service Fund (USF) and the intercarrier compensation (ICC) system to support broadband infrastructure under a Connect American Fund (CAF).   This Inquiry & NPRM had been “adopted” and “released” on April 21, and was printed in the Federal Register on May 13 (FR 75, No. 92, starting on page 26906). 

The Federal Register version lists the comment period as ending on July 12, with reply comments by August 11.  However, the full, original document was not released to the Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) until June 16, more than halfway through the comment period.  It is now found buried in the filing listings for proceeding 09-51, as over 35 sets of ex-parte notices and comments were later received and listed in this proceeding by the end of the week.   The Inquiry and NPRM was also released under proceedings 10-90 and 05-337 at the same time. 

The Inquiry seeks comment on the best way to create an accelerated process to target funding of broadband networks in unserved areas, including a fast track CAF program to support new broadband construction in unserved areas and a “Mobility Fund” to support deployment of 3G networks to a minimum level of 3G (or better) mobile service availability, all while still finalizing the full implementation rules for the CAF funding to provide universal access to broadband and voice services. 

It is a reasonable assumption that much of the current TV channel bandwidth that the Commission is seeking to most quickly obtain from the broadcasters would be auctioned to be used for this accelerated wireless services rollout.   This explains, in part, why the existing ex-parte presenters and commenters since the Federal Register publication date include the NAB as well as NBC Television Affiliates, CBS Television Affiliates Association, PBS, Time Warner Cable, the NTCA, and the major wireless telecommunications companies.  The ABC Television Affiliates association had also presented, ex-parte, on May 10.

The Inquiry also seeks comment on developing a cost or cost/revenue model to support the funding of broadband communications in areas where the private sector cannot afford to provide these services.  Comment is also sought on eventually replacing the legacy high-cost programs with the CAF, and whether to modify the existing High-Cost Proxy Model (HCPM) model, or replace it with a new CAF model, and also requests comment on propagation models to be used to calculate the actual cost of a wireless deployment.

While the Inquiry goes into extensive detail on many areas of inquiry, it also throws open the door in paragraph 16 for “comment on any aspect of the National Broadband Plan model that may be relevant to our consideration of how to reform the existing universal service support mechanisms”.

The NPRM part seeks comment on common-sense ways to cap growth and cut the inefficient funding of high-cost support mechanisms for voice-oriented technologies, shifting the savings to support broadband services through the CAF.

The Inquiry and NPRM refers to, and includes as Appendix B, OBI Technical Paper No. 1, “The Broadband Availability Gap”.   

— Sid Shumate, Givens & Bell, Inc.