While action on digital white spaces and on the Verizon-Alltel and Sprint-Clearwire ventures dominated the FCC’s agenda this week, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin bowed reluctantly to pressures from competitive carriers, members of Congress and his fellow commissioners by postponing the agency’s vote on an order that would have revamped the universal service fund (USF) regime to promote broadband deployment in rural areas. In addition to addressing intercarrier compensation issues related to ISP-bound traffic, the draft order outlined by Martin last month proposed sweeping amendments to the USF rules. Critics contend that the changes will lead to higher phone rates and will actually discourage rural broadband investment in spite of the FCC’s goals. As such, a host of parties have urged the FCC to delay its vote on grounds that little public input has been sought on the proposed USF rules. Recommending a renegotiation of USF reform while the FCC proceeds on the narrow issue of intercarrier compensation, Martin’s four FCC colleagues called for a December 18 vote on an overhauled USF order that would build in several weeks of public comment. To satisfy a November 5 deadline for responding to a related DC Circuit order, the FCC on Wednesday issued an order that, according to Martin’s colleagues, “sets forth the Commission’s legal justification for the rules it adopted . . . governing intercarrier compensation for telecommunications traffic bound for Internet service providers” and that “also preserves the ability to move toward a more unified intercarrier compensation regime.” In a further rulemaking notice issued simultaneously, the FCC also sought comment on the broader issues of intercarrier compensation and USF reform, focusing, in particular, on (1) the need to provide USF funding for broadband services, (2) USF support for competitive eligible telecommunications carriers, and (3) methodologies for setting termination rates. Although Martin’s colleagues maintained that the further notice “reflects our commitment to comprehensive reform of the intercarrier compensation and [USF] systems in an expedited fashion,” Martin lamented Tuesday’s canceled vote as “a missed opportunity,” as he voiced doubt that his fellow commissioners “will be prepared to address the most challenging issues [of USF reform]” by December.