A decision on whether to start tacking Universal Service fees onto Internet customers’ bills has been delayed amid ongoing litigation over net neutrality rules, according to a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) member.
During a re-confirmation hearing in the Senate on Wednesday, Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said a decision from the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service, on which she sits, will not come until there is more certainty about the classification of broadband Internet service.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP rallies around Manchin, Sinema McConnell gets GOP wake-up call Democrat on controversial Schumer speech: Timing 'may not have been the best' MORE (R-S.D.) pressed her on whether the delay signaled a lack of confidence that the rules would be upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
"I have no crystal ball," Rosenworcel said about the court's decision, adding that she has confidence in how the rules were written.
But she said with resources "constrained" at the FCC, it would be prudent to hold off on a decision until there is more "legal certainty."
Universal Service fees were a controversial issue leading up to the net neutrality order, which reclassified broadband Internet as a telecommunications service similar to traditional telephones rather than a less-regulated information service.
Critics warned that reclassification had the potential to hike fees for Internet service.
Telecommunications services are generally required to pay fees into the Universal Service Fund, which helps subsidize phone and broadband service for underserved and poor individuals.
Phone companies, which currently pay those subsidies, have historically tacked these fees onto customers’ phone bills. Net neutrality critics warn that will eventually happen with broadband service bills.
The FCC chose to avoid applying those Internet fees in its February vote. Instead, it deferred to a decision from the joint board. The board originally had a deadline of April, but that was pushed back when the rules were approved.
In is unclear when the fee decision will come, as the order is expected to stay in the courts for some time. A decision from the D.C. Circuit is slated for early next year, but observers have predicted it could be a prime candidate for the Supreme Court, whichever way the court rules.