FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski drew fire from House lawmakers Wednesday over the agency’s revamp of the Universal Service Fund.
Louisiana Republican Jeff Landry told Genachowski that the waiver struggling carriers can apply for to help transition to the new USF program is too costly and too complicated. Landry leveled his criticism in a tense exchange at a Small Business Committee Hearing on expanding broadband access.
“This is the waiver,” Landry said, abruptly placing half a foot of papers before him for Genachowski and others to see. “This doesn’t look like a waiver process that’s simple.”
Genachowski acknowledged the paperwork challenge, but noted that “most of the documents that are submitted to us have already been prepared” for other reasons.
The FCC chairman defended the commission’s efforts to work with small carriers in the waiver process. The cost of completing a waiver, Genachowski said, is likely “a very small fraction of the public money they have received.” Out of the 10 waiver requests the commission has received, companies are seeking at least $250 per month, per customer, Genachowski said.
But the panel’s top Democrat, Nydia Velazquez of New York also criticized the commission's waiver process for the program.
“We have been contacted by a lot of those small companies that the process is quite burdensome,” Velazquez said.
Landry also complained about the price tag.
“I have a company in my district that has already spent over $124,000,” Landry said. “They are telling me that if they don’t get the waiver, they are going out of business.”
After the hearing, an FCC official told POLITICO that no company from Louisiana has filed for a waiver. Landry's office later acknowledged the error and said the company could not "pursue the waiver process due to the restrictive qualifications imposed to designate waiver eligibility.”
At Landry’s request, Genachowski reaffirmed his agency’s commitment to helping the small companies through the transition.
“Making sure that consumers don’t lose existing service and get service is the fundamental purpose of our reform,” Genachowski said.
After the hearing, an FCC official told POLITICO that “Congressman Landry may have been referring to EATEL, which is one of the companies whose spending significantly exceeds the Commission’s benchmarks.”
Landry’s office later confirmed that the lawmaker was referring to EATEL.