June 2019
News and Updates
Here are some updates from the Texas Telephone Association. View as Webpage
Update from Executive Director Lyn Kamerman
Texas Legislature leaves Austin 
The Texas Legislature adjourned on May 27, gaveling out a session that resulted in the passage of several bills impacting the telecommunications industry.
 
While it will take some time to fully digest all of the conference committee reports, corrections and other items approved by the Legislature, there are a few bills important to our industry and our membership that made it across the finish line and were sent to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for his signature.
 
The TTA team worked closely with member companies to advocate for policies to support a strong telecommunications industry. We worked on policy issues ranging from legislation encouraging broadband deployment in rural Texas to SB 1764, sponsored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, enacting a new program that would allow Texans to securely register contact information for friends and family members for immediate notification in the event of an emergency.

One key measure is SB 14 sponsored by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, dealing with electric cooperatives running high-speed fiber networks in electric easements. Working closely with member companies, the TTA legislative team worked with the authors to include language dealing with cross-subsidies and pole attachment rates to create a level playing field for industry players.

In addition, HB 1960 by Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, establishes 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. We were able to amend the legislation to include representation of small rural telecommunications companies on the council.
 
Although the Legislature has left town, the wheels continue to turn in regulatory proceedings at the Public Utility Commission of Texas and at the Federal Communications Commission affecting the Texas telecommunications industry. There are a few items of note.

Virgin Mobile Lifeline proceeding moving toward resolution

Virgin Mobile’s application to provide expanded Lifeline services in parts of Texas is nearing a resolution at the Texas PUC.

The State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) on May 21 issued a proposal for decision on Virgin Mobile’s application to be designated an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) and Eligible Telecommunications Provider (ETP) which would allow Virgin Mobile to receive state low-income support for Lifeline customers in certain areas. The proposal would grant Virgin Mobile’s amended application for eligible telecommunications carrier designation but would deny the request for eligible telecommunications provider. The proposal, if approved by the commission, would essentially deny Virgin Mobile’s request to receive state support for providing Lifeline in certain areas.

Virgin Mobile on June 5 filed exceptions to the proposal for decision, contending it is not required to provide all of the elements of basic local telecommunications service, but merely all of the elements of Lifeline service to qualify for Lifeline support. The PUC staff filed a notice that it did not intend to file any exceptions to the proposal but reserved the right to respond to other parties’ exceptions, which are due on June 17. The PUC is expected to consider the proposal during its June 27 open meeting.

Meanwhile, a pending application by Q Link Wireless seeking to be designated as eligible to receive state low-income support for its Lifeline customers within the AT&T, Frontier, and CenturyLink price cap study areas in Texas is in a holding pattern. While comments have been filed, the Texas PUC staff has requested information from Q Link in the case.
 
Texas PUC reviews of SB 586 reports nearing commission action

The Texas PUC staff has issued recommendations on all earnings reports filed by small rural telecommunications companies that have opted into the new Texas universal service fund funding mechanism under SB 586 enacted in 2017.

The PUC staff proposed a few adjustments to some of the company’s reported earnings, but so far none of those adjustments have resulted in a change in any company’s classification as under-earning, over-earning or within the “reasonable” earning band.

Now that most of the final staff recommendations have been filed, the next step is for the commission to consider the PUC staff recommendations. Given that these are the first SB 586 compliance reports, the TTA team anticipates commissioners will consider the recommendations during an upcoming open meeting. However, it is possible a commission administrative law judge will issue a notice of approval of the staff recommendations.

Once an order is issued, companies will have an opportunity to challenge any proposed staff adjustments and to apply for additional Texas universal service fund support. Also, to the extent the commission decides to reduce any company’s support, the commission staff may initiate a contested case to seek reductions.

According to the PUC’s rules, Texas universal service fund adjustment applications must include a copy of the SB 586 Annual Report and associated materials, responses to any requests for information, the amount of revenue adjustments sought and testimony and supporting work papers.

The TTA team will continue to work with the Texas PUC staff to streamline adjustment proceedings on behalf of the industry.

FCC delays performance measures testing until early 2020

The Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau on May 30 issued a public notice announcing a delay in the requirement to begin testing and reporting of broadband speed and latency results until the first quarter of 2020. 

As outlined in the FCC’s 2018 Performance Measures Order , affected carriers were required to begin broadband performance testing in the third and fourth quarters of 2019 and report these results by July 1, 2020. There are a number of petitions for reconsideration related to the FCC’s broadband performance testing and the bureau said issues raised in those petitions demonstrated a need for additional technical development of the testing interfaces. In addition, the bureau agreed to delay the new testing requirements because of the need for federal Paperwork Reduction Act approval.

The TTA team recommends members continue to identify and implement broadband performance testing solutions given the relatively short six-month delay.

FCC considering cap on universal service fund

The Federal Communications Commission on May 31 released a notice of proposed rulemaking seeking comment on establishing an $11.42 billion cap on the federal Universal Service Fund. The cap represents the sum of the authorized funding in the four federal universal service fund programs in 2018. The FCC seeks comments on topics ranging from setting a different cap, adjusting the cap over time, implementation as well as possible changes to how funds are allocated and prioritized.

Texas telecommunications carriers seek changes in E-rate

Some Texas telecommunications companies are seeking changes in the E-rate program 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 indicated they are concerned about the use of E-Rate funds to overbuild existing networks that have been constructed using other universal service or government funds.
Around the Texas Capitol – John Hubbard and Ian Randolph
Texas Legislature adjourns
The 86th session of the Texas Legislature ended May 27.

Now the that the halls of the Texas Capitol have quieted a bit we can look at what happened. Like each session, the 2019 session had its own unique characteristics.

This year, a total of 7,324 House and Senate bills were introduced and 1,429 – or 19.5 percent -- passed. Since 1989, when modern legislative data began getting compiled, only the 2009 session saw more bills filed at 7,419. Moreover, going back to 1989. only the 2017 session saw a smaller percentage of bills pass at 18.26 percent. In other words, it appears it is becoming increasingly difficult to pass bills.

Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed 58 bills sent to him by the Legislature.

Going into the 2019 session in January, there were a number of unknowns, including: How a new speaker of the House of Representatives would fare? How would Democrats and Republicans get along in light of the gains made by Democrats in the November 2018 elections? How successful would the Legislature be in dealing with the two major issues of school finance reform and property taxes?

Let’s take these in order. By most accounts House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, did a stellar job -- particularly since his two major issues of school finance reform and property tax reform resulted in significant bills passing. There were bumps along the way -- like advocating an increase in the state sales tax that failed to gain any momentum in the House -- but it didn’t deter his success in addressing issues that had vexed the Legislature for years.

Unlike the 2017 session when partisan warfare broke out over controversial social issues like the so-called “bathroom” bill, the 2019 session was generally marked by more bipartisan cordiality.

The Senate unanimously approved its version of the budget and a $5,000 teacher pay raise. Meanwhile, the House passed its version of school finance legislation on a 148-1 vote and its version of the budget on a 149-0 vote. A rare episode of partisanship arose related to  SB 1978/HB 3172 – nicknamed the “ Save Chick-fil-A" bill -- which stemmed from how the city of San Antonio handled bids for food vendors at its airport. The bill dealt with religious groups and rights for the LGBTQ community. But this display of partisanship was by far the exception rather than the rule.

The tone was set at the start of the session. Governor Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Bonnen held a joint news conference that firmly put school finance and property tax reform at the top of the agenda. This was particularly notable since the Legislature has been unable to deal with these issues for years. In 2006, the Legislature took one regular session and three special sessions to pass a school finance reform bill. While the Senate got off to a chaotic start with the introduction of three separate bills on school finance and another on property tax reform, the House went to work on its first priority: school finance.

While there were bumps along the way, both chambers were able to navigate the minefield of both issues and approve bills and send them to the governor.

The school finance bill will see the state’s share of public school funding climb to about 45 percent. The property tax bill includes many changes such as limiting school districts, which collect the most property taxes, in their ability to increase their tax revenue by no more than 2.5 percent without an election. Both bills have their detractors and supporters. However, the state lawmakers will be able to take credit for addressing these thorny issues – for better or worse.

Of course, we’re now moving into the interim between sessions we will be monitoring next steps and the impact on rural telecommunications. For instance, we will be watching to see when the newly created Governor’s Broadband Council gets up and running.

If you have questions or need anything please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Association News
Tyler Campbell to keynote TTA Convention and Product Showcase
Motivational speaker Tyler Campbell will provide the keynote address at the Texas Telephone Association Convention and Product Showcase in San Antonio.

Tyler Campbell , the son of Earl (NFL Hall of Fame and Heisman Trophy winner) and Reuna Campbell, will address conference attendees at 9 a.m. Tuesday August 27 at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa in San Antonio Tyler will discuss “What It Means to Be a B.O.S.S.: Believe, Overcome, Strategize and Sacrifice.’’

Tyler recalls life-changing words learned from his father at an early age: “A Campbell Never Quits.” When confronted with life’s obstacles, Tyler says these words provided strength and encouragement.

Tyler received a football scholarship to San Diego State University in 2005. During his junior year in college, Tyler was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and became one of the first individuals to play division one college football with the disease. After graduating from college 2009, Tyler moved back to Austin. 

He serves as an ambassador for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and has raised more than $500,000 for the society. He also serves as sales account manager for Earl Campbell Meat Products. Tyler specializes in delivering empowering, inspiring and motivating messages of confidence and self-worth.

In addition to Campbell’s address, TTA attendees will discuss key issues impacting the telecommunications industry.

To register for the TTA convention scheduled for August 25-28, please visit the registration page To reserve a room at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country, more information can be found here .

For more information contact Joann Kamerman at joannkam@tta.org .
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In the State and Around the Nation
FCC issues 2019 broadband deployment report
The Federal Communications Commission on May 29 released its 2019 Broadband Deployment Report , finding “the nation’s digital divide is narrowing as more Americans than ever have access to high-speed broadband,’’ according to an FCC news release .

The report found the digital divide has narrowed substantially and for a second consecutive year advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis. 

Since the FCC’s last broadband deployment report, the number of Americans lacking a connection of the FCC’s broadband standard of at least 25 megabits per second to download data and 3 megabits per second to upload data has dropped from 26.1 million to 21.3 million, a decrease of more than 18 percent, the report said. The report said the majority of those gaining access to such high-speed connections are in rural America.

The FCC also reported the number of Americans with access to broadband at speeds of at least 250 megabits per second to download data and 25 megabits per second to upload data grew in 2017 by more than 36 percent , to 191.5 million, and the number of rural Americans with access to such broadband speeds increased by 85.1 percent.
In the News
Copperas Cove graduating senior Ashley Wilson has been named as one of six high school students in Texas who are receiving an $8,000 scholarship over four years from the Texas Telephone Association. Wilson is planning to attend Baylor University.
“Education is key to students having the skills to fill the jobs of tomorrow,’’ stated Bill Colston, Jr. of Riviera Telephone Company Inc. and chairman of the TTA Foundation, in a press release. “As tuition and fees continue to rise, the cost of attending college continues to increase. Through the TTA Foundation scholarship program, Texas telecommunications companies are investing in our communities and in the development of our future leaders.’’ Read more.

The FCC said it is ready to authorize support for 15 more entities that won rural broadband funding through the Connect America Fund CAF II auction. Collectively, the 15 CAF II winners won 611 bids. Their inclusion on the list released today means that their long-form application has been reviewed and accepted. To obtain final authorization, they now must obtain a valid letter of credit (LOC). Read more.

(Op-ed from Tom Daschle and   Olympia Snowe of the Bipartisan Policy Center)
As former senators from rural states, we’ve seen firsthand the importance of providing affordable, quality care to those living in rural areas. The isolation that exists in some parts of South Dakota and Maine means residents have limited access to care. Many patients must travel great distances to even reach a hospital. Yet more and more rural hospitals are closing around the country .  In fact, 106 of them have shut down since 2010.  It is staggering to think of these challenges when, compared to people living in urban and suburban areas, rural Americans are generally older and poorer, more uninsured or underinsured, and therefore less healthy. Read more.

The   FCC announced   a task force meant to support the deployment of broadband across unserved farms and ranches. The Precision Ag Connectivity Task Force will work with the US Department of Agriculture and public and private sector stakeholders. It will be responsible for developing policy recommendations for rural, agriculture-focused broadband. "As I've traveled the country, I've seen the amazing efficiencies, innovations, and improvements that high-speed Internet brings to today's farms and ranches," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. " ... This is the present and the future of American agriculture, and we must do whatever we can to support these producers and enhance precision agriculture." Read more.

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