July 2019
News and Updates
Here are some updates from the Texas Telephone Association. View as Webpage
Update from Executive Director Lyn Kamerman
Quiet summer months upon us, regulatory wheels continue to turn
After the Texas Legislature left Austin at the end of May, we have moved into the quiet summer months.

In cities and towns across Texas, local telecommunications companies and employees continue to make their communities a better place to live and to work. State telecommunications companies not only make financial and in-kind donations to numerous local charitable organizations, employees also volunteer thousands of hours of their time each year in local communities.

We are readying plans for the Texas Telephone Association Convention and Product Showcase set for August 25-28 in San Antonio. I hope you plan to join us at that event where we will be discussing some of the more pressing issues impacting the telecommunications industry today.

At the same time, the regulatory wheels continue to turn in proceedings at the Public Utility Commission of Texas and at the Federal Communications Commission on issues impacting the state’s telecommunications industry. There are a few items of note.

TTA and TSTCI jointly file waiver petition on five-year network improvement plans

The Texas PUC currently requires recipients of state high-cost universal service support to prepare and file a five-year network improvement plan and update it annually in an effort to ensure transparency and accountability in how recipients use state support. When originally adopted, this rule mirrored the federal requirements for recipients of federal high-cost support. However, in 2016 the FCC eliminated the mandate to file federal five-year network improvement plans and adopted a new reporting requirement for federal high-cost recipients to report broadband capable locations.

In 2017, the Texas Telephone Association and the Texas Statewide Telephone Cooperative Inc. worked together to seek a waiver of the state requirement to file five-year network improvement plans because such plans were no longer required by the FCC. The PUC granted a temporary two-year waiver, which expired this year and TTA and TSTCI filed a new joint waiver request and a petition for rulemaking on asking the PUC to permanently eliminate the requirements.

The commission has not taken action on this request. Given the recent focus on broadband availability during the last session of the Texas Legislature, TTA encourages members to develop network improvement plans to demonstrate to state policy makers how members plan to use state universal service support to expand and improve broadband availability.

Virgin Mobile Lifeline application still pending

Virgin Mobile’s application to provide expanded Lifeline services in parts of Texas is still pending at the Texas PUC.

The PUC was scheduled to make a final decision on Virgin Mobile’s application to be designated an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) and Eligible Telecommunications Provider (ETP) that would allow Virgin Mobile to receive state low-income support for Lifeline customers in certain areas on June 17. However, the item was unexpectedly pulled from the agenda at the last moment.

Virgin Mobile previously agreed to extend until July 1 the PUC’s jurisdictional deadline to issue a final decision – but that deadline has now passed leaving the case in regulatory limbo.

Sprint on June 28 filed tariff revisions on behalf of Virgin Mobile in Tariff Control No. 42242 to expand its Lifeline service areas in Texas with a requested effective date of July 1, apparently in anticipation of Virgin Mobile receiving the go-ahead to expand its Lifeline services. The Texas PUC staff on July 8 filed comments in the Virgin Mobile case and indicated the commission will consider the case during the July 18 open meeting with staff indicating its position that Virgin Mobile’s tariff is not currently effective.

It is unclear whether Virgin Mobile’s attempt to file a tariff change to expand its Lifeline services in certain parts of Texas before the commission approves the expansion will have any negative impact on the company’s still-pending request. We will continue to monitor developments in the case as it moves toward final resolution.

Texas PUC still reviewing SB 586 reports

The Texas PUC staff continues to review Texas telecommunications companies’ reports under SB 586 that was adopted by the Legislature in 2017. But those reviews are occurring at a slow pace.

The PUC staff has recently filed several amended recommendations related to many Texas telecommunications companies’ reports. While the details of those amended recommendations are contained in confidential staff memos, we understand most of the changes are related to correcting errors regarding federally-authorized rate of return benchmarks. Only a few of the recommendations resulted in a change in earnings categories for members.

We continue to await final action from the commission on staff recommendations. We are aware some members are already preparing the necessary paperwork to apply for increases and that individual companies are working with commission staff to streamline Texas universal service fund adjustment filings.

We will continue to alert our membership of developments.

Texas telecommunications companies seek federal E-Rate rule changes

Texas telecommunications companies push for changes in the E-rate program is moving forward at the Federal Communications Commission.

Central Texas Telephone Cooperative, Peoples Telephone Cooperative and Totelcom Communications filed a  petition  on May 22 with the FCC to urge the commission to initiate a rulemaking proceeding to consider change the E-rate program competitive bidding requirements to include safeguards that discourage overbuilding of existing federally supported fiber networks. 

The Texas companies expressed concern about the use of E-Rate funds to overbuild existing networks that have been constructed using other universal service or government funds and proposed several rule changes.

Initial comments of support were filed this month by numerous local phone companies in Texas, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina and Michigan. In addition, several industry associations supported the petition, including the Oregon Telecommunications Association, Washington Independent Telecommunications Association, NTCA, USTelecom and WTA – Advocates for Rural Broadband. Supporting comments generally provided additional examples of overbuilding and the challenges of small rural carriers in bidding on requests for proposals covering large regions. NTCA’s comments also repeated concerns raised during the E-rate modernization proceedings in 2014 and called for steps to be taken to bring the federal universal service fund’s high-cost program and the E-rate program into harmony with each other.

Some opponents to the rule changes include several E-rate consortia, consulting firms, education and technology associations that argue the changes would harm competition, create higher prices for affected schools and add a lengthy challenge and negotiation process to an already lengthy E-rate funding process. Opponents said the existing rules are working well and there is insufficient evidence to support rule changes. In addition, some of the opposing comments filed, such as those filed by Education Superhighway, charge the petitioners with “submitting bureaucratic proposals to Washington instead of submitting bids.”

Any Texas company planning visits to Washington D.C. should consider adding this issue to their agenda for discussion with staff. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly have vocally opposed the E-rate Modernization efforts enacted in 2014. Commissioner O’Rielly, in particular, has continually criticized Universal Service Administrative Company’s processes for evaluating special construction funding requests as well as the use of E-rate funds to overbuild networks funded by high-cost support. 

We will continue to monitor this important issue.

FCC provides more insight into broadband testing

The FCC published a notice in the Federal Register on June 7 on broadband speed and latency testing and reporting requirements. The FCC in May delayed the requirement for carriers to implement broadband testing during the third quarter of 2019 until the first quarter of 2020 while the FCC works on some of the outstanding technical aspects of how testing will be implemented. 

One of those technical issues to be addressed was how locations would be randomly selected by Universal Service Administrative Company for carriers to test for speed and latency compliance. The FCC’s notice indicated carriers will be required to identify the locations where they have an active subscriber and the USAC will then select a random sample from which the carrier will be required to perform broadband testing.

We will continue to monitor developments related to broadband testing and will alert our members of any significant new developments.
Around the Texas Capitol – John Hubbard and Ian Randolph
2019 Texas Legislature: How they stacked up
The Texas Capitol and the Legislature are filled with traditions.

One of the many fun traditions surrounding the Texas Legislature is the 10 Best and 10 Worst list of legislators published by Texas Monthly. While any list leaves much to be desired and are completely subjective and, sometimes unfair, they are fun. 

So, in the spirit of top 10 lists, we decided to produce a top 10 list of legislators and recognize them for their efforts on behalf of the telecommunications industry and for rural Texas. The list is by no means comprehensive as so many legislators worked on behalf of rural Texas and supported our efforts. As such, we did not feel it was fair to produce a 10 worst list. These are simply our opinions and do not reflect any position by the Texas Telephone Association. So, in no particular order, here our 10 Best members of the 86 th Legislature.

Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, was a true champion for rural Texas. As chairman of the powerful House Calendars Committee, Price found time to support our issues.  He was the author of HB 1960 creating the Governor’s Broadband Development Council and was instrumental in ensuring there were places on the council for two members of our industry and one place for small rural schools. In addition, Price was the first member to support our initiative to allow Texans with a driver’s license or state identification card to voluntarily add emergency contact information with the Texas Department of Public Safety and was the sponsor of the bill, SB 1764.

Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, also makes the list for her leadership as the author of our emergency contact initiative, SB 1764. Zaffirini was quick to support this TTA initiative idea and championed it until passage. This is a simple, common sense change to current law that will bring some measure of peace of mind to families while saving valuable time for first responders in emergency situations.

Senator Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, has long been a supporter of our industry and a champion for rural Texas. This session, he authored SB 14, dealing with electric cooperatives running high-speed fiber networks in electric easements.  While TTA did not support the original version of the bill, Nichols let the legislative process work and ultimately accepted amendments that greatly improved the bill. Also, he was the author of the amendment that successfully added the small-and-mid-sized schools formula back into HB 3, the school finance bill. Although, ultimately, not included in the final version of the school finance bill, Nichols was able to successfully garner the support of 21 rural and urban members of both parties to add the amendment on the bill in the Senate. Also, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation, he has always been a guardian of rural infrastructure interests in the Senate.

Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, was the House sponsor of SB 14 dealing with electric coops and, like Nichols, worked with us to greatly improve the terms of the bill. He added the crucial amendment relating to pole attachments that was critical to many of our members to ensure a level playing field for all players.

Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, and Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio were true champions for the Texas telecommunications industry’s on SB 14. Both understood our competitive concerns regarding pole attachment issues and stood firm with us and worked to get our language added to the bill on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives.

Rep. “Doc’ Anderson, R-Waco, as chairman of the Rural Caucus of the House and Senate, he has been a steady supporter of rural issues. Concerned about broadband disparities in rural Texas, this session Anderson was author of HB 2422, which called for coordination of broadband projects with the Texas Department of Transportation and HB 2423, creating a broadband office within the Public Utility Commission of Texas. Ultimately, HB 2422 passed, and HB 2243 did not. Although TTA was not supportive of all elements of these bills, there was never a doubt Anderson had the best interests of rural Texas at heart.

Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Water and Rural Affairs, he has continually worked to improve infrastructure in rural Texas. in 2017, Perry he was the author of SB 586, the critical legislation to reform the Texas universal service fund that was so important to our industry. In 2019, he was the Senate sponsor of key rural broadband bills – HB 1960, HB 2422, and HB 2423.

Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, was an important vote for TTA in the debate surrounding SB 14 dealing with electric cooperatives and was a stalwart in helping give the Legislature time to amend and improve the bill. Campbell was the only negative vote on SB 14 in the Business and Commerce Committee and on the Senate Floor.

Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, the new chairman of the House Committee on State Affairs showed great leadership in navigating the numerous telecommunications bills that were referred to his committee. He showed a great understanding of Texas telecommunications issues and was fair to all parties. Look for him to continue to play a major role on our issues in the future.

Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, proved to be a leader on rural education and telecommunications issues. He was a key player in the passage of the school finance bill and filed bills related to rural broadband. Although TTA did not support all of his legislation, there is no doubt that he wholeheartedly and passionately represents the interest of rural Texas.
Association News
Have you registered yet? TTA Convention and Product Showcase set for August 25-28 
Plans are shaping up for the 2019 Texas Telephone Association Convention and Product Showcase in San Antonio.

Some 150 telecommunications industry professionals will gather August 25-28 at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa in San Antonio a nd discuss key issues impacting the telecommunications industry.

Motivational speaker Tyler Campbell, the son of Earl (NFL Hall of Fame and Heisman Trophy winner) and Reuna Campbell, will deliver the keynote address at 9 a.m. Tuesday August 27. Tyler will discuss “What It Means to Be a B.O.S.S.: Believe, Overcome, Strategize and Sacrifice.’’

To register for the TTA convention, please visit the registration page

Any questions? Please contact Joann Kamerman at joannkam@tta.org
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In the News
YK Communications is currently building a private fiber project for El Campo ISD to connect the following campuses: Hutchins Elementary, Myatt Elementary, Northside Elementary, El Campo High School, and the administrative offices. This project, scheduled to be completed by the end of July 2019, will allow for more bandwidth between campuses and enable El Campo ISD to upgrade their network facilities. It’s paid for by federal E-rate funding. Read more.

The Federal Communications Commission said it authorized more than $524 million to  expand broadband  in 23 states. The funding will add internet service to 205,000  rural homes and businesses  over the next 10 years, the  FCC  said. Providers will start to get funding this month. This is the FCC's third wave of funding for  rural broadband  as part of last year's  Connect America Fund Phase II  auction, which granted $1.488 billion to support over 700,000 homes and businesses. The agency also authorized funding in May and June to support connectivity in around 100,000 homes and businesses. Read more.

The Federal Communications Commission on Monday approved nearly $77 million in funding for improving rural internet access in 89 Texas counties. The money will go to connecting businesses and residences that are unserved by existing internet access.
The vast majority of the money for Texas, won in an auction to conduct the buildout, will go to one company, and in some counties will create as few as three new connections. Read more.

AUSTIN, Texas — Do you feel like you're being plagued by more robocalls each and every day? Relief could soon be in sight. On Tuesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a major crackdown on illegal robocalls, including nearly 100 actions that target operations around the nation responsible for more than one billion calls. Read more.

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