As the new Democratic majority in Congress came into power yesterday, lawmakers from both parties laid out their telecom-related agenda with a flurry of bills that target reforms to the universal service fund (USF), Internet access taxes, “discriminatory” taxes on wireless services, and public safety interoperability. Former Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK)—now the ranking member of that committee—revived earlier efforts to reform the USF with the introduction of legislation that would require broadband and IP-based service providers to contribute to the USF. Provisions of the Stevens bill, known as the Universal Service for Americans Act (S. 101), had been included in telecom reform legislation last year that never made it to the Senate floor. Intended to promote the distribution of USF monies in a competitively and technologically neutral manner, the measure would create a separate $500 million fund for broadband services to unserved areas and would also vest voice-over-Internet protocol operators with the same interconnection rights and obligations as traditional telephone carriers. Senator John McCain (R-AZ)—another former chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee now headed by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI)—is a co-sponsor of legislation that would make permanent a moratorium on Internet access taxes that is scheduled to expire on November 1. As McCain and co-sponsor John Sununu (R-NH) warned that consumers could see a 17% spike in their Internet access bills without the moratorium, the U.S. Telecom Association praised the bill as “an important step for consumers” that “will permanently end the unnecessary, burdensome taxes that would limit choice.” Taxes are the target of a second bill, also co-sponsored by McCain, that would impose a three-year moratorium on the imposition of “discriminatory” wireless service taxes by state and local governments. Meanwhile, amidst the publication of Department of Homeland Security statistics on Wednesday that gave high marks to only six of 75 U.S. metropolitan areas in terms of communications interoperability and disaster preparedness, Senate Democrats unveiled “placeholder” legislation that would “enhance resources to provide first-responder communications interoperability.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) proclaimed that the bill—to be drafted by the end of this month—would “provide America’s first responders with the technology they need to communicate with each other during a crisis.”