USF Key To Franchise Passage, Says Ensign


Communications Subcommittee Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) told C-SPAN in an interview scheduled to air this weekend that the video franchise reform bill probably won't be able to pass unless expansion of the universal service fund (USF) remains in the bill.

Its passage in any form is increasingly problematic, but Ensign is still hopeful that constituents will contact their Senators and push for the bill, which he says will boost boost price and service competition to cable, as well as Internet speeds and services.
He cited the universal service provision's support from Senate Commerce Committee Co-chairmen Ted Stevens and Daniel Inouye, as well as Democrat support for the provision, which would expand payments into the fund, which underwrites communications service to rural, underserved, and expensive-to-serve areas.
Ensign is for revising the USF fund, which was initially started to fund phone service to rural areas, though not necessarily for the expansion of payments outlined in the bill. For example, he says, why expand payments for hard-wired service when there are potentially cheaper, wireless, ways of connecting rural America.
Ensign told Steve Scully of C-SPAN's Communicators series that the bill's backers are still trying to line up the 60 votes necessary to get the bill to the Senate floor, but would not handicap the chances beyond saying that if the bill could get floor time, it would pass.

If the bill does not make it to the floor in September, he said, its chances in a lame-duck session diminish, he said.

Ensign pointed out that the Senate bill had a number of "extraneous" provisions. But rather than suggesting paring them back to more closely resemble the already-passed House version, he said they were what would help get the bill to the floor if it makes it there, since they could pick up some votes from the individual legislators championing them.

And if the bill passes, Ensign said he fully expects to be on the conference committee that would have to reconcile the two House and Senate versions, though he said that is up to committee leaders.

If the bill does not pass, some Republicans hope to use it as a campaign issue. Ensign pointed out that the bill also includes improvement to first responder communications and that Democrats would then have to explain why they blocked that.

Calling tough network neutrality provisions unnecessary and even harmful, Ensign said they did not belong in the bill. He said the bill already protects the next garage-to-computer giant success story,  but does not protect the business positions of now-large companies like Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft, who he says want to do so by regulating the Internet.