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Monday, July 22, 2013

Three little dots

I didn't see anything striking in the comments that Commissioners Pai and Rosenworcel made on the occasion of the new NPRM.  And Commissioner Clyburn's comments didn't get into the specifics of the NPRM at all.  But one thing in Commissioner Pai's statement did prompt a sardonic laugh.

In his argument supporting the idea of funding internal connections instead of voice services, he says:
Congress itself demanded as much when it instructed that the E-Rate program be focused on providing “advanced . . . services” to schools and libraries.
That ellipsis made me laugh.  You may be thinking, "What clause could be in there that is so long-winded that it would force the Commissioner to use an ellipsis?"  But I knew the law well enough to know that the Commissioner used the ellipsis not for brevity, but to obscure a troublesome word.

What Congress actually said in 47 U.S.C. § 254(b)(6) was:
Elementary and secondary schools and classrooms, health care providers, and libraries should have access to advanced telecommunications services as described in subsection (h) of this section.
See, it's that troublesome word "telecommunications" that Commissioner Pai didn't want you to see.  Wireless access points are great tools for connecting you to the Internet, but the Internet is not a "telecommunications service."

Let's see what subsection (h) says:
All telecommunications carriers serving a geographic area shall, upon a bona fide request for any of its services that are within the definition of universal service under subsection (c)(3) of this section, provide such services to elementary schools, secondary schools, and libraries for educational purposes at rates less than the amounts charged for similar services to other parties. The discount shall be an amount that the Commission, with respect to interstate services, and the States, with respect to intrastate services, determine is appropriate and necessary to ensure affordable access to and use of such services by such entities. A telecommunications carrier providing service under this paragraph shall—
(i) have an amount equal to the amount of the discount treated as an offset to its obligation to contribute to the mechanisms to preserve and advance universal service, or
(ii) notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (e) of this section, receive reimbursement utilizing the support mechanisms to preserve and advance universal service.
 Since the purpose of the program is to provide access to telecommunications services, not information services, it seems to me to be a little tough to say that wireless access points should have a higher priority than voice services.  So in Commissioner Pai's place, I would use the ellipsis, too.

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