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Blog Posts by Sharon Gillett

FCC Launches Connect America Fund

by Sharon Gillett, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
April 25, 2012 - 04:51 PM

The principle of universal service is that all Americans need access to affordable communications.  In the last century, universal service programs connected virtually the entire nation to telephone service.  Now, in the 21st century, when high-speed Internet has become the essential communications tool for jobs, innovation, economic growth, education, healthcare, public safety and building communities, our goal must be to connect every American, regardless of where they live.  To do this without imposing new funding burdens on consumers means eliminating inefficient rules and bad incentives that have plagued the Universal Service Fund for years. 

That’s exactly what the Commission did last year when it voted unanimously to reform and modernize the Universal Service Fund, it set the express goal of bringing broadband access to the more than 18 million Americans, mostly rural, who lack it.  The centerpiece of this modernization is the Connect America Fund, or CAF, which transforms the old voice-centric universal service fund for rural areas into an engine for rural broadband deployment.  To meet these goals without growing the fund beyond its current size, the FCC also imposed long-overdue fiscal responsibility and accountability measures, limiting the universal service fees paid by consumers and business across the country.

Today, we take two important steps toward reaching these goals.

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Smart Government Fixes for Lifeline

by Sharon Gillett, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
February 7, 2012 - 10:05 AM

Sharon Gillett

These past few months have been especially proud ones for me at the Federal Communications Commission for one very simple reason: I have had the privilege of being part of a team that put the principles of smart government to work.  Yesterday, the Commission released a bipartisan Order comprehensively reforming the Lifeline program, the culmination of months of effort to clean-up and modernize this vital program.

Lifeline is a program that helps low-income Americans afford phone service by providing them with a monthly discount on their phone bills, averaging $9.25, paid for by our universal service fund. The program has been around since 1985, and over that time, the percentage of low-income families with phones has increased from 80% to nearly 92%.  But the program’s problems have also increased, especially after the Commission in 2008 made it easier for pre-paid wireless providers to participate.

The pre-paid services proved very popular, in part because the companies priced their plans so the Lifeline subsidy covered the whole bill, allowing them to advertise “free” phones.  Unfortunately, Lifeline’s rules were built for the kitchen phone, not the cell phone. As a result, some consumers got multiple subsidized phones – something that didn’t happen in the hard-wired wall phone days.   Some companies were enrolling consumers who weren’t eligible.  Some companies were collecting a $30 bounty every time they signed someone up..

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Progress Made on the Road To Bring Broadband to Rural Areas, but Many Miles To Go

by Sharon Gillett, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
June 22, 2011 - 06:49 PM

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Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill recognized the importance of bringing broadband to rural America.  It told the FCC Chairman, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture, to take a close look at rural broadband, and to submit reports describing “a comprehensive rural broadband strategy” to Congress.  In May of 2009, Acting Chairman Copps delivered the first report.  Today, Chairman Genachowski released the second—and final— report required by the legislation.

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Exceptional Health Care for Rural America

by Sharon Gillett, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
June 22, 2011 - 06:44 PM

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There are rules, and there are exceptions.  This week we’re making some common-sense exceptions so that some 235 health care providers can continue to provide high-quality health care to rural America.

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Reforming Intercarrier Compensation for Broadband

by Sharon Gillett, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
April 13, 2011 - 12:10 PM

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:119:height=100,width=71]]In February, the Commission took a pivotal step to reform government policy to better reflect the world of broadband today and in the future.  In adopting the USF/ICC Transformation NPRM, the Commission launched major reform of the nation’s universal service and intercarrier compensation systems, building momentum to get the job done as soon as possible.  The current system, based on a voice-centric world, actually deters investment in 21st Century Internet protocol networks.
One part of this effort will examine and learn from the actions that state partners have taken to reduce intrastate access rates – rates that service providers charge one another to complete long distance calls within a state.  By taking action to reform these charges, states further the FCC’s goals of modernizing the intercarrier compensation system for a broadband world, reducing incentives for regulatory gamesmanship, and paving the way to lower long distance and wireless rates for consumers.

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Digging for More Broadband Deployment

by Sharon Gillett, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
April 7, 2011 - 12:52 PM

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:119:height=98,width=70]]It’s easy to forget that the virtual reality of the Internet depends on the gritty reality of wires hung on utility poles, wireless signals carried by antennas and receivers on towers and fiber buried under streets and railroad rights-of-way. But the cost of reaching consumers and businesses with broadband Internet access depends in no small part on the time and expense required to string wires on poles and dig under streets.
To reduce costs and delays, the FCC is working to reform infrastructure policies through its Broadband Acceleration Initiative.  The goal: help broadband providers get robust, affordable wired and wireless broadband everywhere.  Today, that initiative bore fruit when the FCC approved real reform in the arcane world of pole attachments.
Consider this: some communications companies report that it can take many months or even years for utility companies to do the work necessary for broadband providers to attach their wires or antennas to utility poles.  Wireless providers, for example, report that faster and more predictable attachments could save them over $5 billion – money that could be better spent on deploying and upgrading broadband for consumers across the country.  So today we adopted rules that will make expanding and improving broadband networks faster, cheaper and more predictable.

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Reforming and Improving Lifeline and Link Up

January 13, 2011 - 04:18 PM

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Last year was a busy one for Universal Service Fund (USF) reform at the FCC. We adopted a major order that modernized the E-rate program, which supports broadband for schools and libraries. We began the reform process for the High-Cost Fund, which supports phone service and broadband in rural and other high-cost areas, and the Rural Health Care program, which supports broadband for rural health facilities.

As part of our commitment to modernize all our USF programs and improve protections against waste, fraud, and abuse, we've also been working hard on improvements and reform proposals for Lifeline and Link Up, which provide telephone service discounts to low-income consumers. These discounts ensure that the financial hardships these customers face don't disconnect them from the societal and economic benefits of having phone service.

Here's what's been going on...

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Broadband: Jobs and Innovation

by Sharon Gillett, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
January 1, 2011 - 12:12 PM

Houston, We Have A Solution: HP E-rate Fraud Case Settled

November 12, 2010 - 02:34 PM

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This week the FCC notched another win for America's taxpayers, and especially for America's students. Working with the Department of Justice, and acting on tips from whistleblowers, the FCC investigated allegations that a group of companies that included Hewlett Packard Company (HP) lavished gifts on Houston and Dallas Independent School District personnel to lure contracts that included some $17 million in HP equipment. These improper actions constitute E-rate fraud, threatening the integrity of a crucial educational program, and have resulted in a settlement. Since 1996 the E-rate program has brought Internet connectivity to millions of students and virtually every classroom across the nation.

The charges are as eye-opening as they are disappointing. Yachting trips and pricey meals; tickets to see Tom Brady and the Patriots as Houston hosted the 2004 Super Bowl; and other varied and alluring entertainment packages. These contractors pulled out all the stops. All to sway officials to skirt a competitive bidding process that is vital to ensure that government funds provided to schools and libraries for our kids' education stretch as far as possible.

In the settlement ironed out between the Department of Justice, FCC and HP, HP agreed to pay the government $16.25 million, most of which will be returned to the E-rate program. Further, the FCC will oversee a compliance agreement to prevent future foul play. HP will undergo audits of its E-rate business and has agreed to train its employees thoroughly on FCC gift and E-rate rules.

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