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Friday, May 05, 2017

Wood shed? Firing squad?

Commissioner O'Rielly, who is now Chairman of the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service, has put USAC on notice!  Chris Henderson, the USAC CEO, resigned this week.  Usually, I'd expect to see some sort of "thank you for your service" from one of the Commissioners, but instead, Commissioner O'Rielly fired off this cannonade: "“The departure of its CEO presents an opportunity for the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) to clean up its act. ... Absent significant and timely improvements, I believe that all options should be on the table, including putting USAC’s functions out for contract...."

The tone is similar to Chairman Pai's recent missive to USAC, but Pai's letter just said, "You need to shape up!" whereas O'Rielly's says, "Shape up or ship out!"

Should the FCC actually consider firing USAC?  Well....

Long term?  Yes, they should at least consider it.  I find it ... um ... "interesting" that the company running this program is "a not-for-profit, independent, wholly-owned subsidiary of the National Exchange Carrier Association, Inc. (“NECA”)."   NECA is the lobbying firm for the telephone companies.  Even more "interesting," about a quarter of USAC's operating expenses are paid to Solix, a for-profit subsidiary of NECA.   That just doesn't smell dainty, although it would be hard to find an organization that was both competent to run the program and free of any industry ties.  Still, it would look nice if the FCC at least looked at other options.

Short term?  No.  In a time of turmoil for the program, we don't need a whole new organization running things.  There has been a lot of turnover at the top, but there is still a lot of institutional knowledge in the trenches.  This past year, I often find myself responding to USAC decisions with, "WTF?", but occasionally it's, "Now that's good thinking."  If USAC is replaced, there would be a lot more "WTF?"

Personally?  No.  In general, I like the people at USAC, and I want them to keep their jobs.

If the FCC does decide to replace USAC, I hope they'll make a careful search and have a nice, long period of transition.

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