On October 3, a constitutional challenge to the Universal Service system of surcharge fees – which are effectively taxes on voice consumers – was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Eleventh Circuit. The plaintiffs in Consumers' Research v. FCC raise several non-delegation claims in their petition based on Article I, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, the plaintiffs challenge the statutory authority of the Universal Service Administrative Authority (USAC) to administer the subsidy fee system, and they also raise an alternative claim against the USAC's authority pursuant to the Appointments Clause in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution. Plaintiffs also challenge the USF Tax Factor for failure to comply with the Administrative Procedures Act regarding rulemakings and for failure to be published in the Federal Register.
The claims raised in the plaintiffs' petition to the Eleventh Circuit in Consumers' Research v. FCC are similar to claims raised in pending cases in the Fifth and Sixth Circuits. The Free State Foundation and FSF President Randolph May have joined amicus curiae briefs filed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) in both the Fifth and Sixth Circuit cases. The amicus brief joined by FSF and FSF President May was the subject of a blog post from April 19 of this year. And the other amicus brief was filed in the Sixth Circuit on September 29. Many thanks go to CEI. According to court docket records, the Fifth Circuit has tentatively scheduled oral arguments for December 5, 2022.
The constitutional and statutory challenges raised by Consumers' Research and others to the Universal Service Fund's system for imposing and administering surcharge fees are principled, thoughtful, and deserving of careful consideration by the judiciary.
P.S. For recent takes on the need for Congress to modernize the Universal Service system, be sure to check out FSF President Randolph May's August 2022 Perspectives from FSF Scholars, "The FCC's USF Report: Unprecedented Broadband Funding Requires Fundamental Universal Service Reforms" as well as FSF Senior Fellow Andrew Long's August 30 blog post, "A True Assessment of the USF's Future Relevance Demands a Full Accounting of Broadband Subsidies."