FCC cancels vote on telecom charges
WASHINGTON - The head of the Federal Communications Commission has canceled a controversial Election Day vote on a proposed overhaul of telecommunications regulations that many consumer advocates feared would lead to higher phone bills.
Abandoning the vote is a setback for FCC chairman Kevin Martin, one of three Republicans on the five-member commission, who had hoped to pass his proposal before power changes hands in Washington. Martin pulled the item from the agenda for today's FCC meeting amid mounting opposition from many corners of the telecommunications industry, consumer groups, Congress - and even his fellow commissioners.
Martin had been seeking to reform the multibillion-dollar "intercarrier compensation" system, the byzantine menu of charges that telecom carriers pay to access each other's networks and connect calls. Martin wanted to move toward uniform, lower rates.
His plan also included major changes to the $7 billion Universal Service Fund, the federal program that subsidizes telecom service in rural and poor communities through a surcharge on long-distance bills. Among other things, Martin would have required carriers to use Universal Service money to invest in broadband networks in parts of the country that lack high-speed Internet connections.
The proposed overhaul of telecom access fees had the support of Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc., which argue that the existing rules are outdated.
But a coalition of competing carriers and rural phone companies feared Martin's plan would diminish the money they get for completing calls to their subscribers. Consumer advocates warned that the proposal could lead to higher phone bills as phone companies sought to recover lost access revenue from other sources. And Martin's four fellow commissioners objected to addressing his proposal before seeking public comments on the issues that it raises.