The Federal Communications Commission once again has acted to reduce the costs for family calls made to military people deployed to the Middle East and other postings.
In an order adopted Jan. 8 but not released until yesterday, the FCC "exempted from Universal Service Fund (USF) and Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) fund contribution requirements revenue from calls covered by section 2(a) of the Call Home Act, including, but not limited to, calls made using prepaid calling cards and post-paid calling cards, and collect calls made by Armed Forces personnel."
The commission also says it will a issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking "to propose and seek comment on additional steps the commission might take to further implement the Call Home Act and thus further reduce the cost to military personnel of calling home." Comments from military families in particular are being solicited regarding their experiences and "on the benefits and limitations of the various services and the associated costs and fees."
In a joint statement, the five-member commission said, "This forbearance action is intended to allow telecommunications providers to offer immediate relief to our Armed Forces personnel stationed and deployed abroad. However, the actions we take here are intended to be interim in nature, and we recognize that the most effective and appropriate relief may change, depending both on the commission's resolution of other USF contribution issues in its 'Contribution Methodology Proceeding' and on the record that is generated in response to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that we intend to release shortly."
Responding immediately to the FCC's action, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) lauded the agency for acting quickly to begin implementing the Call Home Act of 2006, which passed Congress late last year. That bill was sponsored by Stevens and Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).
"As a former military pilot stationed overseas during World War II, I know how much it means to be able to communicate with families and loved ones at home," Stevens says. "American service members used to rely on mail, but now our troops rely on the Internet and phone calls. It can cost soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan as much as33 cents a minute to call their families in Alaska. [The] action by the FCC will immediately provide our troops and their families with access to more affordable communications services." [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: This action should have the effect of reducing the cost of these phone calls to about five or ten cents each, assuming all carriers play by the rules. PAT]