8:38 PM EDT

Gil Gutknecht, R-MN 1st

Mr. GUTKNECHT. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 1 1/2 minutes.

Mr. Chairman, I rise on behalf of the Bipartisan Congressional Rural Caucus. The amendment we offer tonight is real simple: It preserves the right of the FCC to require VoIP providers to contribute to the universal service fund and pay appropriate intercarrier compensation fees.

Today, VoIP providers do not contribute to the USF, which is the mechanism that helps build and maintain the communications network that we all rely on, especially in rural America. All other voice providers contribute. Regardless of where you live, we all depend on a vibrant, strong communications network.

So why are we doing this on this bill? Title 3 of the COPE Act is a VoIP title. The language grants VoIP providers all the benefits of being telecommunications carriers, such as the right to interconnect with networks and access to right-of-way. It also gives VoIP providers some of the same responsibilities, such as providing the E-911 service, complying with regulations for the disabled, number portability, et cetera. However, H.R. 5252 does not classify VoIP providers as telecommunications

carriers, and therefore they do not have all the same social responsibilities such as USF contributions and intercarrier payments. Our amendment would not mandate that VoIP providers contribute to USF or pay intercarrier compensation fees, nor would

it require the FCC to force them to do these things; it merely preserves the FCC's authority to do so. We need to assure the FCC that it is not congressional intent to exempt VoIP providers from the duties required under other communications networks.

Mr. Chairman, I urge passage of this amendment and the underlying bill.

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.

8:39 PM EDT

Joe Barton, R-TX 6th

Mr. BARTON of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I am not going to object strenuously to this amendment. I do want to make a couple of points. I think the universal service fund needs, at a minimum, to be significantly reformed. I do not think, as we hopefully deploy more technologies and more innovative ways of using those technologies, that we should saddle these new emerging technologies with attacks that, while well-intentioned, was originated in the 1920s and is in need of serious reform. So I do oppose

the amendment, respectfully, but I understand those that support it, and am very respectful of the gentleman who offered it, because he has worked with us diligently on it.

I would like to enter into a colloquy with the gentlewoman from Tennessee at this point in time.

8:41 PM EDT

Joe Barton, R-TX 6th

Mr. BARTON of Texas. I wish to acknowledge the important role that you have played in the process of developing this legislation. I also would like to commend you on your support for rural America, and would add that, if this bill becomes law, small rural telephone companies are going to benefit and enter the video business in communities like your community in your congressional district of McMinnville, Tennessee.

In response to the specific inquiry, you are correct, under the legislation if the telephone company identifies a portion of a cable franchise area that it intends to serve with video, there is no build-out obligation nor would there be a redlining violation as long as the telephone company did not refuse to serve a group of potential residential subscribers in that area because of the income of that group.

8:42 PM EDT

Marsha Blackburn, R-TN 7th

Mrs. BLACKBURN. I thank Chairman Barton for his answer, which is important to hundreds of small phone companies. I congratulate you on the bill and look forward to its enactment into law.

8:42 PM EDT

Gil Gutknecht, R-MN 1st

Mr. GUTKNECHT. Mr. Chairman, I yield 1 minute to my cochair of the Telecommunications Task Force of the Rural Caucus, Mr. Stupak of Michigan.

8:43 PM EDT

Bart Stupak, D-MI 1st

Mr. STUPAK. Mr. Chairman, I rise to offer this amendment on behalf of the Congressional Rural Caucus with my friend, Mr. Gutknecht from Minnesota. This amendment makes a good bill better. Our amendment is not controversial, it simply is a savings clause. It preserves the ability of the FCC to extend universal service fund and intercarrier compensation obligation to Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP providers.

The problem is that the underlying bill extends many new rights to VoIP providers, but extends only some of the responsibility. This leaves out the responsibility to contribute to the universal service system and pay appropriate compensation for use of the network.

These two funding mechanisms have ensured that we enjoy the ubiquitous phone coverage we have today, and USF funds provide affordable broadband access for low income schools, libraries, and rural health facilities.

During our hearings, Jeffrey Citron of the Vonage Holdings Company stated, and I quote: ``As a businessman, I don't get nor do I expect a free ride on anyone's network.'' Kyle McSlarrow, president and CEO of the National Cable and Telephone Association stated, ``The cable industry strongly supports the goals and purposes of universal service fund. Thus, cable operators that offer VoIP services already pay millions of dollars into the current system, and we support making that obligation to everyone.''

8:44 PM EDT

Tom Osborne, R-NE 3rd

Mr. OSBORNE. Mr. Chairman, people in my district, which is largely rural, want and need broadband services just as much as people in urban areas; yet according to a recent report, almost half of rural Nebraska communities only have one broadband Internet provider and some have none.

Without the help of the Universal Service Fund, the average Nebraskan living in a rural area would pay an additional $235 each year for telecommunications services, and this is true across the country in rural areas.

The Gutknecht-Stupak amendment would preserve FCC authority to require VoIP providers to contribute to the Universal Service Fund and pay appropriate fees, just like every other service provider. This commonsense amendment is the result of numerous hearings, briefings and meetings hosted by the Rural Caucus over the last year and a half.

Mr. Chairman, I appreciate their leadership and efforts on this issue. I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.

8:46 PM EDT

Allen Boyd, D-FL 2nd

Mr. BOYD. Mr. Chairman, I thank Mr. Gutknecht and Mr. Stupak for their work on behalf of this amendment. I want to tell you that the Universal Service Fund is designed to ensure telecommunications services to all Americans, no matter where they live, what kind of rural area.

This amendment preserves the authority for the FCC to require the VoIP providers to pay into the USF. I strongly support and encourage the adoption of the amendment.