April 2019
News and Updates
Here are some updates from the Texas Telephone Association. View as Webpage
Update from Executive Director Lyn Kamerman
Telecommunications issues under the microscope at the Texas Capitol
From broadband bills in the Texas Legislature to potential rule changes at the Public Utility Commission of Texas, it is a busy April in Austin.

The Texas Telephone Association team has been working on behalf of the state's telecommunications industry on multiple fronts. There are a handful of bills making their way through the Legislature related to deploying high-speed broadband services in rural areas of Texas.

I recently testified before the House and Senate committees on some key measures impacting our industry. SB 14 sponsored by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and its companion legislation HB 1446, sponsored by Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, relate to electric cooperatives running high-speed fiber networks in electric easements.

As new players enter the state’s broadband market, it is important for Texas to maintain a business environment that encourages investment and promotes growth while promoting a level playing field.

HB 1960 by Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, and its companion legislation, SB 1206 by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, is making its way through the Legislature. This legislation would establish a governor's broadband development council to research the progress of broadband development in unserved areas and identify barriers and solutions to residential and commercial broadband development.

I testified on the legislation in the House committee and I am pleased to say that working with the authors, we were able to amend the legislation to include possibly two representatives of small rural telecommunications companies on the 17-member council.

In addition to the legislative activity, the Texas PUC and the Federal Communications Commission are considering some issues that will impact the telecommunications industry in Texas.

Texas PUC rule review advances

The Texas PUC is reviewing its rules under Chapter 26 of the Texas Government Code which regulate the telecommunications industry in areas ranging from consumer protection to infrastructure.

The PUC is required to review its rules every four years and readopt, change or repeal rules.

TTA and the  Texas Statewide Telephone Cooperative Inc. filed joint comments on March 15 in the proceeding (project no. 48979 ) asking the PUC to waive the requirement related to the filing of traditional earnings monitoring reports for telecommunications companies that have opted into the enhanced earnings monitoring reports required under the SB 586 reforms to universal service that were approved by the Legislature in 2017. As an alternative, we have asked the PUC to eliminate the traditional earnings monitoring reporting requirements for those companies that have opted into the new universal service funding mechanism.

In addition, other additional parties filed comments requesting rule changes. The National Lifeline Association (NaLA) filed comments asking the PUC to eliminate the requirement recipients of state low-income or Lifeline support be facility-based providers. TTA is opposing NaLA’s proposal pointing out NaLA’s six members -- Boomerang Wireless, i-wireless, Q Link Wireless, Telrite Corp., TracFone Wireless and TruConnect -- stand to receive about $11 million per year in state low-income support if the PUC were to eliminate the requirement that providers own facilities.

Based on the PUC’s latest Scope of Competition Report, the state low-income program distributes about $4 million each year in Lifeline support. TTA argued that if the PUC reverses its policy and allows non-facilities based providers to participate in the state low-income program, Lifeline support would increase from $4 million to $20 million and create pressure to raise the Texas universal service fund assessment rates.

In addition, the Texas 911 Alliance filed comments seeking technical changes to the PUC’s 911 rules to account for next generation 911 services. The Texas 911 Alliance is seeking rule changes to modernize the validation of 911 data by providing preferred use of a location validation function for address data for 911 calls for authentication and secure access.

In addition, TSTCI filed reply and supplemental comments asking the PUC to consider opening proceedings to address changes related to service quality issues, reporting and recordkeeping obligations, the provision of telephone directories, Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) services and opposition to allowing wireless resellers to gain access to the state low-income program.

Q Link Wireless seeks access to state low-income support

Q Link Wireless on April 3 filed an application with the Texas PUC seeking eligibility to receive state low-income support for its Lifeline customers within the AT&T, Frontier, and CenturyLink service areas.

Q Link previously sought approval from the Texas PUC to qualify for federal low-income support in two prior cases. 

In its latest filing, Q Link says it is a facility-based provider and seeks access to the state low-income program because it provides “international traffic, operator services and directory assistance services through its own” switches.

According to the most recent federal data, Q Link now is the largest single provider of Lifeline service in Texas receiving about $18 million in federal low-income support annually. If granted access to the state low-income program, Q Link will receive an estimated $7 million each year in state low-income support. Total statewide Lifeline support in Texas was about $4 million in 2018, according to the latest PUC Scope of Competition Report.

The PUC set a May 9 deadline to intervene in the latest Q Link application. TTA will continue to monitor this proceeding and provide updates.

Texas PUC hosts USAC National Verifier workshop

Wes Robinson and I attended a Universal Service Administrative Company National Verifier Workshop hosted by the Texas PUC on March 20. The National Verifier is a centralized system that determines whether subscribers are eligible for Lifeline benefits. It was put into place by the FCC in its 2016 Lifeline modernization order to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal low-income program.

Under the program, the National Verifier determines whether subscribers are eligible based on the sharing of information between state and federal agencies. Texas has its own program in place to verify whether a customer qualifies for Lifeline service that is overseen by Solix.

USAC and the Texas PUC have yet to reach agreement ono how USAC’s National Verifier system will be implemented in Texas. However, absent some delay by the FCC, a soft launch with optional participation must be in place by the end of 2019. 

It is possible that USAC and the PUC could implement a program in which Solix administers verification of customers within the National Verifier. Alternatively, the PUC could opt to require individual carriers to verify their customers via the National Verifier system, which would be a significant change in the Lifeline operations of TTA members.

TTA will continue to monitor developments related to implementation of the National Verifier system in Texas and will alert members of any significant developments.
Around the Texas Capitol – John Hubbard and Ian Randolph
Texas Legislature focusing on key bills 
Things have certainly picked up in the halls of the Texas Legislature.

With less than six weeks left before the Legislature adjourns on May 27, the House and Senate are drilling down the details of hundreds of bills.

Part of this is by design. The 60-day rule – the provision in the Texas Constitution that says lawmakers can’t pass any bills during the first 60 days -- is well behind us and committees are meeting and hearing an avalanche of proposed new laws.

As of April 18, some 3,539 bills – or nearly half of the 7,371 bills filed -- have been considered in committee.  However, only 813 bills have been reported “engrossed,” meaning bills that have passed one chamber or the other. Based on these numbers, there is a significant logjam of bills waiting to make their way to both respective chamber’s floors – and the pressure is building.

One way to release pressure is the use of the Senate Local and Uncontested and House Local and Consent calendars. These calendars are typically used for bills that are constitutionally “local’ bills or bills that have had no opposition in committee and meet certain criteria such as not having a fiscal note. These calendars can act as a pressure valve and allow for time for more substantive and potentially controversial bills to be considered on the floor of the Senate or House of Representatives. In many legislative sessions nearly half all bills passed were considered on a local calendar. Both chambers have now set their first local calendars of the session to advance legislation through the process..

With deadlines for the Legislature to approve bills looming, look for both the Senate and House to begin considering long local calendars.  The House faces a series of deadlines in May that will mean life or death for many a piece of legislation.  These end-of-session deadlines are relatively new and were implemented in 1993 by the House under then-Speaker James E. “Pete” Laney and over the next few sessions in the Senate. Before 1993, both chambers passed bills right until the end of session. However, the older system produced even heavier logjams in the final days of session and in many cases did not give members enough time to properly review or consider the bills they were voting on.

The House has set strict deadlines for the passage of bills. Meanwhile, the Senate has fewer and later deadlines. But both chambers have a deadline by which no further bills may be considered. This chart will give you an idea of the impending end-of-session deadlines in both chambers before the Legislature adjourns.

As April winds down, committee agendas will grow longer as lawmakers work longer days to take testimony on pending legislation. As May approaches, floor calendars will grow much longer. 

The first week of May is a critical week for bills in the House as May 6 is the last day House committees can consider House bills. Unfortunately, unless a House bill is being considered for placement on the local calendar, approval by a House committee this late means the bill is likely to fail because May 7 is the last day a House bill can be placed on a House calendar and the bill must be considered by the full House no later than Friday, May 10. The following Friday May 17 is the last day to consider local House bills.

The Senate has fewer rules on deadlines, but general Senate rules make Sunday May 19 critical as it is the last day a House bill can be approved by a Senate committee before the 135 th day of session on May 22, which is the last day to consider a bill in either chamber. After May 22,, only conference committee reports and corrections can be considered until the Legislature adjourns on May 27.

These rules have helped greatly in making the end of session more manageable during the last few sessions. 

But, the pace will pick up greatly in the coming weeks. It’s fair to say that if a bill has not had a hearing in a couple of weeks, full panic will set in.
Association News
TTA Convention and Product Showcase set for August 25-28
Planning is underway for the Texas Telephone Association Convention and Product Showcase set for August 25 through 28 at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort in San Antonio.

Look for more details soon.
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In the State and Around the Nation
Texas Legislation would create emergency contact information program
Texans would be able to securely register contact information for friends and family members for immediate notification in the event of an emergency under legislation pending in the Texas Legislature.

Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, has introduced   House Bill 1890   that would allow Texans with a driver’s license or state identification card to voluntarily update their emergency contact information at any time with the Texas Department of Public Safety. The emergency contact information would be accessed by law enforcement in the event of an emergency. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, has introduced companion legislation,   Senate Bill 1764 , i n the Senate.

HB 1890 has been approved by the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee. SB 1764 passed the Senate and is in the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee.

“In times of crisis, it is vitally important that people can communicate with loved ones and emergency personnel,” Price said in a Texas Telephone Association news release . “After an accident, it can often take hours for first-responders to locate next-of-kin, which can create an agonizing wait for loved ones. By keeping emergency contact information databases up to date, emergency personnel will be able to inform next-of-kin more quickly and obtain relevant medical information.”

Zaffirini said: “This bill would update the system established by my Senate Bill 652 in 2009 in one simple, yet critical, way. Allowing persons to update their emergency contacts at-will would ensure first responders have access to the most accurate information, allowing them to focus on saving lives.”

Lyn Kamerman, executive director of the Texas Telephone Association, said: “We at the Texas Telephone Association have seen examples in other states of how implementing emergency contact programs can assist first responders. Given the size and scope of rural Texas, it is vital to get the right information to first responders quickly. Our members provide telecommunications services – including 911 services – across rural Texas and this program will help bring peace of mind to family members while helping to save valuable hours for law enforcement.”
Texas Historical Commission awards YK Communications Texas Treasure Business Award 
YK Communications received the Texas Treasure Business Award from the Texas Historical Commission for its “exceptional contributions toward the economic growth and prosperity of Texas,’’ according to a YK news release .

Members of YK Communications management were presented the award by Ganado Mayor, Clinton Tegeler at a State of the City event. The Texas Treasure Business Award Program recognizes the accomplishments of Texas businesses that have provided employment opportunities and support to the state’s economy for at least 50 years.

“To receive an award like this is truly an honor,” said YK Communications President Russell Kacer. “It not only pays tribute to those that built this company from the ground up, but it also speaks to the adaptability of our team in a world of ever-changing technologies and customer demands.”

What began in 1948 as Ganado Telephone Company has evolved along with technology to become a go-to resource for a broad range of communications solutions.

YK Communications was one of six local businesses recognized by the Texas Historical Commission at this year’s State of the City event. It was the first time businesses in Ganado received the Texas Treasure Business Award. Pictured in the photo are current and retired members of the YK Communications team. 
Place article copy here. Be sure to make the articles short and concise as people tend not to read much more than a couple of paragraphs.
FCC eliminates local rate floor
The Federal Communications Commission on April 12 eliminated the “rate floor” for local phone rates, saying the rule would have imposed a nearly 50 percent increase in local telephone rates for many rural consumers on July 1.
The “rate floor” was set up in 2011 and sets a minimum price for voice services in rural areas that receive federal high cost support. Absent action by the FCC, the rate floor was scheduled to rise from $18 to $26.98 on July 1.
“The practical effect of the rate floor has been to artificially raise telephone rates for many rural Americans, including elderly and low-income Americans, and consumers who keep a phone for limited purposes, such as 911 calls,’’ the FCC said in a news release .
TTA welcomes this shift in federal policy for telecommunications companies that since 2012 have been required to increase local rates or risk reductions in federal universal service support. 

TTA in March 2019 wrote letters to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. John Cornyn asking for their support in requesting the FCC take immediate action to prevent the federally-mandated local rate increases associated with the FCC’s local rate floor.

In addition to TTA, eliminating the rate floor was supported by a diverse set of market players, including the AARP, the National Consumer Law Center and the National Tribal Telecommunications Association.
FCC establishes reassigned number database to battle robocalls
In an effort to reduce unwanted robocalls, the FCC on March 26 established a federal database of numbers that have been disconnected and possibly reassigned. 

Small rural providers with less than 100,000 domestic retail r lines will have a six-month grace period before implementing the  FCC’s requirements . These requirements include:
  • maintaining records related to numbers that were permanently disconnected;
  • reporting permanently disconnected numbers and the last date of permanent disconnection to the reassigned numbers database on the 15th of each month;
  • adhering to a minimum aging period of 45 days before reassigning permanently disconnected telephone numbers to another customer.

TTA encourages members to make sure they are prepared to comply with the FCC database requirements.
In the News
A regional agency representing 14 counties has received a federal grant to work toward better broadband access. The East Texas Council of Governments announced Wednesday that it received the grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The grant includes $375,000 in federal money and $161,000 in local matching funds, according to Jorge Ayala, the regional director of the federal agency. Read more.

In the 1930s, Lyndon Johnson, then a young congressman, decided he wanted to do something grand – on the scale of his hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He pushed for rural electrification, in other words, bringing electricity to remote areas that didn’t yet have power – both in Texas and across the country. Today, there’s a similar urban-rural divide when it comes to broadband internet access. State Rep.  Charles “Doc” Anderson,  a Waco Republican, wants to  address  that  broadband divide . He says that in the 1930s, power companies didn’t provided electricity in rural areas because it wasn’t profitable to do so. The same is true of broadband providers today. Read more.

At the beginning of this century, internet access for most of us was more about entertainment than any sort of necessity. While some predicted a booming future, most viewed the internet as a curiosity. That was almost 20 years ago.
While still a source of entertainment, no one sees the internet as just a game any longer. It now plays a central role in banking and is the way many of us pay our bills, do our jobs, receive news and information and communicate with family and business connections. Increasingly, it even provides a first line of medical care, with digital connections making it possible for a patient to “see” a medical professional via the internet. Read more .

We are proud to announce the acquisition of the wireless internet business currently owned by DirectBytes in Fort Stockton. We will take over operations of all DirectBytes high-speed internet services on Monday, April 1, 2019. Read more.

BBT
CenturyLink announced it won a contract to provide fast, secure connectivity to NASA.
As part of the contract, CenturyLink will provide core backbone network services with speeds of up to 100 Gbps to NASA over a period of nine and a half years. CenturyLink won the contract through the General Services Administration's Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) program. "It's an honor to be the first vendor awarded an EIS task order," said CenturyLink's David Young, senior vice president for strategic government. "Our fast, secure network connectivity will help NASA achieve its vision to reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind." Read more.

The rural broadband fund that Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai  proposed last week   would rely on funding from an existing broadband program slated to expire next year, while also setting higher standards for internet speeds, according to the FCC. Around $2 billion has been available annually in recent years through the  Connect America Fund  and that same amount would be shifted to the new fund, dubbed the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, said Mark Wigfield, a spokesman for the commission, in an email on Tuesday. Read more.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said it has eliminated the “rate floor” for phone rates , saying the rule that would have imposed a nearly 50 percent increase in local telephone rates for many rural consumers on 1 July. The “rate floor” was set up in 2011 and sets a minimum price for voice services in rural areas that receive state subsidies. The floor was scheduled to increase to USD 26.98 on 1 July from 18. The FCC noted the elimination of the floor was supported by a diverse coalition of market players, including the AARP, the National Consumer Law Center, and the National Tribal Telecommunications Association. Consumer group Public Knowledge also approved the move. The group concurred that while the rate floor may have been well-intentioned when originally designed, it has in fact raised rural phone rates.  Read more.

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