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Thursday, July 18, 2013

The politics of Pai

I wanted to put up a separate post about the politics of Commissioner Pai's proposal, to keep that separate from the merits of the proposal.  I'm not going to get into the whole Democrat/Republican thing, nor talk about support on the Hill, because my blood pressure rises if I think about DC politics too much.  I'm thinking about two interest groups outside DC that are going to oppose the Pai proposal.

First, applicants will be against it.  Actually, most applicants won't be against it, but that's not how it will appear.  Like any change, this proposal will create winners and losers.  The losers will howl loudly, and the winners will be smugly silent.  And those who neither win nor lose will pay no attention.  So the only applicant voices we'll hear are those that have lost significant funding.

Second, the telcos will be against it.  It does seem unfair that a lot of USF funding comes from voice, but the E-Rate would no longer fund voice.  Rural Healthcare already doesn't cover voice, and Connect America (nee High Cost) and Low Income are both shifting away from voice.  On the other hand, telcos are shifting away from voice, too, so maybe they won't mind, if they can still keep most of the funding.

Who will be in favor of the proposal?  Equipment providers.  The removal of the Priority One/Priority Two distinction is a boon for companies selling network electronics, because they will be able to say, "You can buy our widget at 75% off!"  Of course, that won't be true for most applicants, who will hit their cap long before they think about network upgrades, but it won't stop companies from saying it.  And those schools in WV trying to dream up ways to spend $128/student will naturally turn to equipment.

I think VoIP providers will cling to the commish's use of "stand-alone" in front of "telephone service" as a way to shoe-horn their services into the E-Rate.  And bundling aside, if data circuits are subsidized and voice circuits are not, that tilts the playing field in favor of VoIP.

None of the above matters in the question of whether Commissioner Pai's proposal should be approved, but I'm guessing it will matter in whether it will be approved.  Although I suppose all the above will be swept aside by party lines.

I can't wait to see how it all unfolds.

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