The National Audit Court (Tribunal de Contas da União, TCU) unanimously approved Wednesday, August 13, a verdict drafted by Justice Humberto Souto that may provide a definitive basis for implementation of investment projects paid for by FUST, the telecommunications universalization fund. The decision also provides for the creation of a new public (and hence potentially universal) service based on the General Telecommunications Act involving ?digital information networks for public access, via the Internet among others, by schools, libraries and hospitals?. The decision was a response to consultations submitted to the Court by the Communications Ministry in pursuit of the best option for investing the money deposited in the FUST fund.
In practice the money will be used only for projects relating to the new digital network service, which has yet to be created. Any company that wants to participate in tenders for FUST projects will have to be licensed to provide this service. Fixed-line and mobile telephone companies and pay-TV operators will all be eligible to bid when auctions are held.
The new service will consist basically of broadband connections for devices installed in schools, libraries and hospitals or other healthcare units, operated by providers of access to the Internet and other digital information networks. It will be licensed in accordance with universalization targets like those applicable to fixed-line telephony today. Only companies specially set up or adapted to offer the service will be able to participate in competitive bidding procedures for licenses, so telcos for example will have to incorporate new entities if they?re interested in entering this segment.
According to the rules laid down in the General Telecommunications Act, the first step Anatel must take in establishing the new service will be a public consultation, after which it will have to submit to the Communications Ministry a proposal for creation of the service by presidential decree. Anatel will also have to draft a general licensing plan and set universal-access targets, also to be promulgated by presidential decree.
Concession areas covered by licenses for the new service need have no relation to the regions into which Brazil is divided for the purposes of public telephone service. Indeed, Teletime News has learned that the areas will probably be far smaller than the existing telco regions, although according to a source in the Communications Ministry they will include both ?meat and bones?, so as to enable licensees to become profitable and cease requiring the support of FUST. This is in fact one of the recommendations in the National Audit Court ruling written by Justice Humberto Souto, who wants licenses to include a clause ensuring that FUST is gradually phased out of funding the service.
The service will be totally free for public schools and libraries, as required by the law that set up FUST. The same goes for teaching hospitals, unlike other healthcare providers not classed as educational institutions and therefore not legally allowed to cover the cost out of FUST.