April 2018
News and Updates
Here are some updates from the Texas Telephone Association. View as Webpage
Update from Executive Director Lyn Kamerman
Texas PUC rulemaking implementing Senate Bill 586 moves forward
The Public Utility Commission of Texas rulemaking on implementing reforms to universal service for small local phone companies in Texas is moving forward.
 
Representatives from the Texas Telephone Association and the Texas Statewide Telephone Cooperative, Inc. on April 25 attended a PUC workshop on Project No. 47669 , on implementing Senate Bill 586, which was approved by the Texas Legislature in 2017. The PUC staff proposal closely followed the proposal TTA and TSTCI submitted.
 
While we are very pleased with the progress so far, TTA, TSTCI and other stakeholders still have a few issues with the proposed order. TTA and TSTCI volunteered to provide suggested changes to the staff for consideration. These include:
  • List a more clearly defined rate-of-return target for companies requesting additional universal service funding and for those companies that may be asked to reduce funding.
  • Determine a minimum basic local rate before increasing universal service funding.
  • More detailed explanation of the cost allocation manual.
 
The commission staff is expected to provide a recommendation to the PUC commissioners by mid-May.
 
In addition, in Texas PUC Docket No. 48204 , the PUC staff on April 20 recommended approval of a joint TTA-TSTCI joint waiver request to delay the filing deadline for the 2017 Earnings Monitoring Reports. Without a waiver, TTA members would be required to file reports for 2017 by May 15 and file nearly identical financial information in the Senate Bill 586 enhanced earnings monitoring reports later this year. 
Association News
Legislative Update – John Hubbard and Ian Randolph
Interim committee hearings of Texas Legislature are well underway at the Capitol. Committees of the Texas Senate and the House of Representatives are meeting in the interim between legislative sessions to help lawmakers prepare for the 2019 legislative session.
 
Interim committee meetings are held to research potential new legislation, to monitor implementation of recently approved legislation and to oversee how the state administers programs under the jurisdiction of each committee. The House speaker and the lieutenant governor assign specific topics for the committees in their respective chambers. Each committee reports its findings and recommendations to their home chamber before the next session.
 
Texas Senate Education Committee on April 4 held an interim committee hearing on several topics, including the federal E-rate program. The E-rate program provides significant federal and state funding to support telecommunication infrastructure, including high-speed fiber optic cable to connect mostly rural schools and public libraries. The Senate Education Committee is monitoring the program since the state provides $25 million in matching funds for the program to the Texas Education Agency through the 2018-2019 state budget. There are serious concerns about delays and denials by the federal government in the E-Rate program that are jeopardizing the roll out of broadband to Texas schools.
 
In the April 4 hearing, TEA staff explained the program and how it works. Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, questioned the need for the program and said he thought it is unfair for taxpayers to pay a tax to fund the program when companies own the infrastructure. Huffines in the past has opposed “subsidies” particularly the Texas Universal Service Fund. Several senators raised questions about how the program was administered and who benefits from it. Several witnesses provided information on the program, including federal/state match rate, what projects are eligible for the program and where eligible projects can be located.
 
Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, and chairman of the committee, called on Jennifer Bergland of the Texas Computer Education Association to testify. Bergland did an outstanding job of explaining the program and addressing questions and concerns expressed by the legislators as well as the concerns Sen. Huffines raised about the program.
 
Based on this hearing, it is clear we will need to actively engage with legislators – particularly in those in the Senate – to make sure they understand the benefits of the E-rate program and the Texas Universal Service fund. Huffines appears set to oppose the Texas Universal Service Fund.

We encourage you to engage with your legislative delegations and explain the benefits you provide to your customers and the people of Texas and how those activities are funded. Please keep us posted as you speak with your legislators and will answer any questions or discuss your concerns.
TTA Foundation scholarships helps students cover rising college costs
With families across Texas struggling with the rising cost of paying for college, the Texas Telephone Association Foundation is working to assist students in this challenge.

In the past 15 years, the average tuition and fees for a semester at a Texas public university has more than doubled. On average, the cost of attending college in Texas surpasses the combined cost of a student's financial aid and expected family contribution by about $8,000 per year . Concerns are mounting that students are going hungry because the price to earn a degree has become so steep, according to a story in the Texas Tribune .

The TTA Foundation is helping students to close the financial gap.

"Education is a critical issue for Texas telephone companies and the communities we serve," said Bill Colston, Jr. of Riviera Telephone Company Inc. and chairman of the TTA Foundation. "Through this scholarship program, Texas telephone companies provide a tremendous benefit to our Texas students while making a significant investment in the development of our leaders of the future.”

The foundation this year will award six four-year scholarships of $2000 a year to students entering college for the 2018-2019 school year.

Since 1992, the TTA Foundation has awarded more than $330,000 in scholarships to Texas students. The foundation is a non-profit, philanthropic organization founded to help further the understanding of telephony and advance telecommunications as a career choice.

Currently several students are attending universities in Texas on TTA Foundation scholarships. These include: Addison Maynard of Conroe at Texas A&M University; Laura Martinez of Sherman at University of Texas at Austin: Makayla Meador of Clifton at Tarleton State University; McKenzie Hahn of Orange Grove at Texas A&M University; Sam Bertelso of Midland at University of Texas at Austin; Blake King of Rockdale at University of Texas at Austin; Samantha Agniel of Houston at Rice University; Daley Wylie of Whitewright at University of Texas at Austin; Nicole Poirot of Baytown at University of Texas at Austin; Lindsey Morrison of Frisco at Texas A&M University; Cesar Garcia, Jr. of Harlingen at Texas A&M University; Cory Hood of Burleson at Texas Christian University; Sean Farrell of Buda at Trinity University; Katherine Strain of Corpus Christi at University of Texas at Austin; Molly Adams of Fredericksburg at Texas A&M University; and Jamail Gaines of Houston at Texas A&M University.

To be eligible for a TTA Foundation scholarship, students must have achieved a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher and be planning to attend a Texas college or university in fall 2018.

Special consideration will be given to students planning to pursue a college degree in fields of study related to telecommunications such as math, business, education, technology, engineering and computer science. High school coursework and financial need also are considered.
 
More than 2000 applications were received this year and awardees will be announced later this spring.
 
The TTA scholarship program is made possible by contributions from TTA members and associate members.
TTA Foundation receives $6000 from TCEI
Tim Weaver of TCEI presented a check to Lyn Kamerman of TTA.
The Texas Communications Expo, Inc. provided a $6000 check to the Texas Telephone Association Foundation.

Tim Weaver of TCEI presented a check to Lyn Kamerman, TTA executive director, during the TCEI’s expo in early April.

The Texas Communications Expo, Inc. , a not-for-profit corporation, was chartered in 1995 and is focused on “charitable, educational, scientific, civil and similar purposes including promotion, advancement, development and dissemination of knowledge and information relating to the communications industry.”
Trojan Horse Innovations Inc. joins TTA
Please welcome Trojan Horse Innovations Inc. as a new TTA associate member. Trojan Horse Innovations, founded in 1999 and based in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, manufactures optical networking products and specializes in o ptical transceivers and DAC cables. For more information visit http://www.thiusa.com/
Planning underway for TTA Convention and Product Showcase set for Sept. 9-12
We are continuing to plan for the 2018 TTA Convention and Product Showcase scheduled for Sept. 9-12 at Horseshoe Bay Resort. Look for additional details soon.
Member Spotlight
Btel deploys advanced fiber network in wake of Hurricane Harvey
After Hurricane Harvey ravaged the Texas Gulf Coast in August 2017, Btel is rapidly rebuilding and deploying fiber networks to bring high-speed broadband to Brazoria County customers.

“We already had planned to launch fiber-to-the-home. Hurricane Harvey escalated the need for fiber,’’ said Charlie Greenberg, president of Btel who serves on the Texas Telephone Association Board of Directors. “We have construction crews all over the place.”
 
Btel, or Brazoria Telephone Company, currently serves a largely rural service territory in southern Brazoria County in the Texas Coastal Bend. Btel provides high-speed Internet, TV, broadband, wireless and local phone service to about 7,000 customers in the greater Brazoria area.
 
Btel, with about 50 employees, is one of the oldest telephone companies in Texas and has been independent, family-owned and operated since 1946.
 
When Hurricane Harvey rolled on to the Texas coast as a Category 4 hurricane on August 25, 2017, the massive slow-moving hurricane dumped an estimated 10 trillion gallons of water on the southeast Texas area. The Brazos and San Bernard rivers on each side of Brazoria overflowed and much of Brazoria was under water for more than a week.

Btel had prepared for the storm by refining disaster plans and securing facilities and bringing in emergency supplies. During the storm, Btel focused on maintaining the network and preserving critical 911 service and communications.

With rising water and the loss of Brazoria’s sewer system, the town was evacuated. Btel’s offices could not reopen until September 11 and the company was able to assess the damage after the flood waters receded.

One-third of Btel’s network was underwater for more than a week. While Btel was able to maintain service to most of its customers throughout the storm, flood waters severely damaged Btel’s outside plant facilities. The combination of brackish water and copper cables created a massive amount of corrosion on the network.

From September 11 to November 3, Btel’s emergency crews worked around-the-clock, seven-days-a-week in challenging conditions to maintain service and repair or replace damaged infrastructure.

“Service, from a customer perspective, is back to normal. We still have a lot of people who are flooded out of their homes,’’ Greenberg said. “The network is functional, and we are moving forward with our fiber-to-the home build-out.’’

In the fiber project, Btel is deploying the first phase of a state-of-the-art fiber network to about 2,900 homes and businesses. Btel is expected to invest about $12 million in this phase of the fiber rollout that is expected to be completed in early 2019.

In the wake of the storm, Btel created the Btel Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, which has collected more than $65,000 from Btel employees and other telephone companies across Texas. Greenberg said hundreds of customers and some employees have received relief. 

“So many of the companies around the state, so many TTA members donated to this,’’ Greenberg said. “The outpouring of support from fellow telcos across the country was remarkable.”

Throughout its history, Btel has seen growth and change.

When Brazoria Telephone was purchased in 1946, the company consisted of 100 hand-cranked magneto telephones with grounded lines. Today, the company has about 7,000 voice, Internet and video subscribers. Read more about Btel's history here .

“Rural companies and cooperatives are continuing working to drive broadband to the areas of need,’’ Greenberg said.
Around the Nation
Federal Universal Service Fund reform
The Federal Communications Commission on March 23 released the latest Report and Order addressing high-cost universal service reforms providing an additional $500 million in funding for broadband in rural areas. At the same time, the FCC refined and clarified existing rules and limited certain “recoverable” expenses. 
 
“Universal service can — and must — play a critical role in helping to bridge the digital divide to ensure that rural America is not left behind as broadband services are deployed,’’ the FCC said in the latest report and order.
 
The FCC order provides additional funding for rate of return carriers who opted into the
FCC alternative Connect America model (A-CAM) while also eliminating the impact of the Budget Control Mechanism on legacy providers.
 
The FCC also included a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on further federal reforms such as allowing legacy providers another opportunity to enter into the alternative Connect America program, increasing support, modifications to the Budget Control Mechanism and increasing the $2 billion rate-of-return budget.
FCC Form 481 changes
The Universal Service Administrative Company on April 3 announced it has opened the FCC Form 481 filing system in order to allow carriers to begin completing their annual filing, which are due July 2.
 
Some of the changes to this year’s FCC Form 481 include eliminating certain reporting obligations the FCC found were unnecessary or duplicative such as voice network outages, unfulfilled service requests, number of complaints, voice and broadband rates and compliance with service quality standards. 
 
This year, certain legacy providers are now required to report any new broadband locations deployed since May 26, 2016.
In the News
Federal money to connect Texas schools to fiber at risk, officials say
Delays and denials by the federal government are putting Texas schools at risk of losing millions of dollars in potential subsidies that would help pay for installing high-speed fiber internet in classrooms, according to state officials. Read more. .

Google Pushes for More 4G CBRS Tests in Texas, as 3.5GHz Spectrum Decision Nears
Google is asking the FCC for permission to hold more tests on 3.5GHz-based CBRS LTE-based services in Texas, which -- beyond 2018 -- could enable the shared mid-band spectrum to be used for localized multi-megabit public and private 4G broadband services, as well as expanding coverage for smartphone users with compatible devices, eventually. Read more .

CenturyLink to FCC: Allow fiber overlashing on poles to accelerate broadband deployment
CenturyLink says the if the FCC continues to allow attachers to overlash fiber on existing utility poles, the regulator will meet its goals to get broadband into the hands of more consumers and businesses. Read more.

FCC pushes ahead with USF ban on suspect suppliers
The US Federal Communications Commission is moving ahead with plans to ban certain suppliers deemed a national security risk from profiting from the country's Universal Service Fund worth over USD 8.5 billion a year. It has opened a public consultation on how to implement the measure. The action is seen as the latest move by the Trump administration to block Chinese equipment suppliers ZTE and Huawei from the US market.  Read more .

Rural Broadband’s Only Hope: Thinking Outside the Box?
As states struggle to close the connectivity gap in rural areas, some experts believe a federal mandate, similar to the one that first brought those residents electricity, might be in order. Read more.

O’Rielly: Putting the Pep Back in Policy and Process
The Federal Communications Commission’s Michael O’Rielly dug deep in the weeds of policy discussion in a speech with the American Enterprise Institute, saying some of the most dissimilar policy issues in place at the FCC can actually be tied together with a unifying message: that the FCC is committed to economic freedom, fiscal constraint and simplifying unnecessarily complicated process issues. Read more.

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