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For Immediate Release: June 10, 2013
Contact: Robert J. Thormeyer, 202-898-9382, rthormeyer@naruc.org

Telecommunications Task Force Seeks Comments on Latest Draft Paper

WASHINGTON--Cooperative federalism remains a key element for assuring new communications services meet the needs of all consumers, with State and federal regulators working more closely together, a regulatory task force said in a draft report.

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ Task Force on Federalism and Telecommunications, in its draft, said the innovative changes in the communications marketplace do not alter the need to ensure that communications services remain reliable, affordable, and available to all. A stronger, more cooperative relationship between federal and State regulators is essential to making that happen, the draft said.

“Cooperative federalism remains an important cornerstone for ensuring that 21st Century communications continues to meet the needs of all citizens, regardless of their location and the type of service that they choose,” the draft said. “Changes to the underlying structure of the network or the technology used to carry information do not change the need for reliable, robust, and ubiquitous communications services that are universally available and reasonably comparable despite an end-users’ location.”

The draft paper comes after the Task Force in February sought public comment on a series of principles articulating the key responsibilities for State utility regulators over the telecommunications sector. NARUC President Philip Jones of Washington created the Task Force last November.

Task Force officials are seeking public comment on the draft by June 20. The paper and comments will be discussed thoroughly during the July 21-24 NARUC Summer Committee Meetings in Denver. The Task Force expects to finalize the paper in November.

The Task Force is led by Commissioner Orjiakor Isiogu of Michigan. Other members of the group are Commissioners James Cawley of Pennsylvania, Paul Kjellander of Idaho, Ryan Palmer of West Virginia, Ronald Brise of Florida, Catherine Sandoval of California, and Chris Nelson of South Dakota. NARUC Committee on Telecommunications Chair John Burke of Vermont is an ex-officio member.

“This draft continues the strong work the Task Force is producing,” said NARUC President Philip Jones of Washington. “The Task Force is continuing their outreach to all stakeholders, which is essential to informing our final product. I would like to thank Chair Isiogu for his leadership, and the Task Force members and staff for their volunteer service and commitment.”

“I would also like to thank my Task Force members and staff, particularly Sherry Lichtenberg, who helped author the report,” Chair Isiogu said. “I am proud of the work we’ve accomplished since November, and I look forward to receiving public comments on the draft.”

In the draft, the Task Force calls on the Federal Communications Commission to better utilize the several congressionally mandated joint boards and conferences on issues like Universal Service and advanced services. When first created in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, these joint bodies led to important innovations and advancements. In recent years, the FCC has relied less and less on these cooperative mechanisms, the report said.

Also, the agency has used informal regulatory policies allowed under the Adminsitrative Procedures Act to develop and pass major policies impacting the communications sector. While these practices are legal, “questions have recently been raised regarding the ability for all interested parties to particulate fully in these decisions,” the draft said.

“By returning to its earlier policy of actively seeking input from the States via the joint boards, the FCC can ensure that its rules positively impact the States” and consumers, the paper said. “To do this, the Task Force recommends that the FCC refer matters to the joint boards more regularly; follow the APA rules in its formal and informal rulemakings; and seek diverse regulatory input from a variety of sources.”

The draft includes the following principles:

Consumer Protection: Ensure that both businesses and mass market users are protected from unfair or illegal practices (including cyber threats) and that their privacy is maintained, regardless of the technology they use;

Network Reliability and Public Safety: Reliable, ubiquitously available communications are critical to protecting the public safety, responding to disasters, and ensuring the public good;

Competition: Competition is critical to discipline the market and to ensure that users have multiple options for selecting the service that best meets their needs. The States are well-positioned to work with all stakeholders to ensure that there is robust competition and customer choice across their specific jurisdictions;

Interconnection: Communications networks must remain interconnected on a non-discriminatory basis regardless of technology. All users must be able to call each other regardless of carrier or technology, calls must complete, and no area of the country should become an isolated communications island, because some providers choose not to interconnect to others in those locations;

Universal Service: Universal service remains a key policy goal of the nation as a whole. The States and the FCC should work together to ensure that service is affordable, ubiquitous, and reliable for all users;

Regulatory Diversity: Regulation should be functional rather than based on the specific technology used to initiate and carry information. Regulation should be technology neutral and developed after reviewing and evaluating constitutional and statutory State and federal roles and exploring multiple points of view;

Evidence-based Decision Making: Open and transparent evidence-based decision making should be the primary tool in reforming regulatory policies. The best policies are developed by gathering information, evaluating all points of view and exploring multiple options; and

Broadband Access, Affordability, and Adoption: The universal availability of broadband service is important to ensuring job growth, the availability of quality medical care, and education across the nation. The States have a key role in ensuring broadband deployment and adoption for their constituents and in protecting consumers.

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NARUC is a non-profit organization founded in 1889 whose members include the governmental agencies that are engaged in the regulation of utilities and carriers in the fifty States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. NARUC's member agencies regulate telecommunications, energy, and water utilities. NARUC represents the interests of State public utility commissions before the three branches of the Federal government.

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