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Washington postpones historic vote

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Kevin Martin, chair of the The Federal Communication Commission, has conceded that proposals on universal service and intercarrier compensation should receive public scrutiny before they're voted on, delaying the vote until December at least.

Not content with choosing a new leader of the free world on Tuesday, America is also deciding if Verizon and Alltel should be allowed to merge, and if white space should be opened up to unlicensed users. However, they won't be deciding whether to reform the Universal Service or Intercarrier Compensation system as the FCC board splits on support for the proposals or, even if they should be voted on at all.

The Universal Service Fund spends $6.7bn connecting rural communities to the phone network, while the intercarrier compensation system is what companies pay each other for carrying calls when a subscriber to one network calls another. Both mechanisms are overdue for reform, and Martin was hoping for a quick vote later today on proposals to start that process.

Instead, it seems the proposals will be published for another round of public comment which is scheduled to be completed by 18 December - though in his statement (pdf) Kevin Martin is dubious that any useful feedback can be gathered in that time:

"I would like to be encouraged by my colleagues’ commitment that they will truly be ready to complete this much needed reform on December 18... I believe the far more likely outcome is that, in December, the other Commissioners will merely want another Further Notice and another round of comment on the most difficult questions."

Amongst those question is whether Universal Service should be extended to include broadband and if all companies should pay a uniform rate for traffic. In the former matter Ofcom recently decided it shouldn’t, but the cost of our Universal Service is carried by BT rather than the tax payer so it's less comparable.

Everyone agrees the systems need reforming, but the best way to do that is loudly debated, and will continue to be for another month or two at least. Anyone who's decided the presidential race is a foregone conclusion can instead watch the FCC voting on the other matters thanks to their live feed. ®

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