Steady Volume of USF Appeals Forces Change in FCC Procedure

Followers of this blog know that appeals relating to Universal Service Fund contribution obligations proliferate. Despite a rule stating that the FCC will address such appeals in 90 days, contribution appeals routinely linger for two years or more before a decision. Moreover, the number of new appeals outpaces the number of USF decisions issued by the Commission, leading to a growing backlog of pending appeals. Bowing to this steady stream of appeals, on July 2, the Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau announced that it would henceforth apply the default comment period to Universal Service Fund (USF) appeals, rather than issuing separate public notices for each USF appeal filed. The default cycle provides ten days for comments after an initial appeal is filed and an additional five days for responses. Under the previous approach, the Bureau typically allowed 30 days for comments and 15 days for replies. The new policy is in effect immediately, beginning with an appeal filed on June 30, 2014.

The default comment period is good news for those who seek to speed the pace of USF appeals. Few appeals generate any comments, and this proposal will significantly shorten the amount of time it takes to compile a record in cases for which there is a significant question. But it remains to be seen whether the Bureau will be able to generate orders resolving appeals more quickly. One of our biggest complaints is that certain issues -- MPLS, private line jurisdiction, etc. -- appear repeatedly in USF appeals. If the Bureau could provide some clarity on these types of issues (like it did with reseller certification issues in 2012), it will go a long way toward reducing the backlog of appeals.