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.
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
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
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
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
, 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
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.