Critics, Congress rally for delaying FCC phone rate vote

It's not to the level of pitchforks and torches, but a scheduled vote on phone rate reform November 4 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is stirring up critics and Congress alike; 61 lawmakers are asking the FCC to postpone the vote and reveal more detail for public review and discussion.

At the heart of the vote is a standardization of the rate phone companies compensate each other for delivering phone calls so that all providers would pay the same rate. Currently, rates depend upon the type of call and where it travels.

Changing rates would result in some (smaller and rural) phone companies receiving less revenue, an estimated $4 billion in total. The FCC has proposed raising fees on consumers to balance out the loss in "settlement" monies.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin scheduled a vote on Election Day, promoting some opponents to call shenanigans, as people will be busy voting on the next president and not likely as occupied with the minutia of intercarrier compensation.

State regulators, lawmakers and consumer groups want the FCC to slow down and put details on the plan on the table for study. The FCC isn't releasing details, citing existing policies that only commissioners and FCC staffers can see written policy.

AT&T and Verizon are all in supporting the move, because it would drastically simplify their accounting methods. Smaller phone companies and wireless carriers aren't so enthusiastic, since the accounting shell game in passing calls between rural and urban areas has allowed mid-sized carriers to reap significant revenues over the years. Lawmakers are also claiming that the FCC is overstepping some of its authority in the move, with responsibility residing in Congress for certain changes.

For more:
- Dow Jones reports on Congressional concern over FCC phone rate reform.
- Wall Street Journal piece on critics against FCC rate reform vote.

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