September 2019
News and Updates
Here are some updates from the Texas Telephone Association. View as Webpage
Update from Executive Director Lyn Kamerman
Looking back at the TTA convention and ahead to fall
As we are moving into fall, it is an exciting time to be involved with the Texas Telephone Association.

The TTA Convention and Product Showcase on August 25-28 the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort in San Antonio was a special event. It was good to see the energy and enthusiasm from conference attendees as we discussed some of the more pressing issues impacting the telecommunications industry today. Thank you again to our speakers, sponsors and attendees.

I also want to welcome new members that recently joined the association: Central Texas TeleCommunications, Coleman County Telephone Cooperative, Inc., Etex Telephone Cooperative, Inc. and Peoples Telephone Cooperative, Inc.

We look forward to working with you to advance a vibrant telecommunications industry in Texas.

The TTA team continues to work closely with member companies to advocate for policies in the regulatory arena to support a strong telecommunications industry in Texas.

We have a new development at the Public Utility Commission of Texas on the pending annual reports under Senate Bill 586, which was approved by the Texas Legislature in 2017 to reform the Texas universal service fund.

On September 11, the PUC administrative law judge overseeing Etex Telephone Cooperative, Inc.’s 2017 report issued a surprise order approving staff’s recommendation finalizing Etex’s report.

It had been assumed the PUC would issue orders confirming staff recommendations on each report, because that is the process with earnings reviews in electric cases. But after months passed, many stakeholders began to speculate that no orders would be issued in the 43 proceedings, making the Etex order surprising. However, the staff rescinded the September 11 order on September 20, stating “an order from the administrative law judge is unnecessary” and no further action would be taken. This activity makes it clear that the PUC will not be issuing any orders in any of the other outstanding SB 586 annual report cases, opening the door for any interested carrier to file an application to request support adjustments.

Based on multiple discussions with staff, Eastex Telephone Cooperative, Inc. on September 18 filed a request for an increase in state high-cost support under SB 586 in docket no. 50026 . Eastex presented testimony supporting the need for increased support from three witnesses, including Wes Robinson and Mayburn Greening, both of Eastex, and from Michael Balhoff, an independent expert specializing in universal service policy. We will be keeping a close eye on how Eastex’s filing is received by the Texas PUC and stakeholders.

All local telecommunications companies that opted into the new universal funding framework have filed 2018 annual reports with the PUC. Based on the filings, 27 companies reported rates of return below the 6.75 percent return considered reasonable by statute, nine reported a reasonable rate of return and seven reported rates of return higher than 11.75 percent. This compares to 2017, when 29 companies reported low rates of return, 10 reported within the range of reasonableness and four reported rates of return higher than what was considered reasonable.

Texas PUC rejects Virgin Mobile’s application to expand Lifeline services

The Texas PUC on August 29 released its final order denying Virgin Mobile’s request to expand Lifeline service in parts of Texas and receive state low-income support. PUC Chair DeAnn T. Walker filed a memo before the PUC’s meeting making technical corrections and proposing revisions to strengthen the order’s finding that previously approved applications do not establish PUC precedent in contested cases.

Virgin Mobile on September 23 filed a motion for rehearing appealing the PUC’s decision in the case.

Texas PUC adopts new rules

The Texas PUC on September 12 approved an order to implement Senate Bill 1476 that was approved by the Legislature in 2017 dealing with cases where support from the Texas universal service fund should be eliminated for competitors in price-cap areas. 

Under the new rule, procedures have been established for reviewing competitive line counts each year, and competitive high-cost support would be eliminated in an exchange where support from the Texas universal service fund has been eliminated for the underlying carrier and where the number of lines served by competitive carriers has decreased by at least 50 percent since December 31, 2016. 

In addition, after reviewing Texas PUC rules affecting telecommunications providers, the commission on September 12 approved staff’s proposal for adoption to make no changes to existing rules. Several parties, including TTA and Texas Statewide Telephone Cooperative Inc., had filed comments asking the commission to amend or eliminate existing rules. While the PUC acknowledged many of those proposals might have merit, the commission made no changes. 

Federal E-rate battle rages on

The battle over E-rate fiber deployments continues at the Federal Communications Commission.

Texas telecommunications companies Central Texas TeleCommunications, Peoples Telephone Cooperative, Inc., and Totelcom Communications, Inc., earlier this year filed a petition with the FCC asking the commission to looking into the use of E-Rate funds to deploy fiber networks over existing federally supported fiber networks. That petition has drawn fire from a number of E-rate beneficiaries that have been using E-Rate funds to build redundant fiber networks.

The Texas Education Service Centers Regions 10, 11 and 15 on August 28 sent a letter providing details about individual projects and the Texas Lone Star Network. The service centers stressed that while some fiber exists in a certain area, it does not a guarantee it can serve the population effectively and efficiently. The service centers said there was no need for additional FCC rules on E-rate funding.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly on August 28 sent a pointed letter to the Cochise County Education and Technology Consortium seeking information related to a $29 million fiber deployment project for 46 schools and libraries in Arizona and citing “wasteful and duplicative spending.” 

According to O’Rielly’s letter, it appears that at least 18 of the schools already have access to fiber networks delivered by a rural telecommunications company and some locations included in the project are not eligible for E-Rate funding. 

FCC’s broadband data collection order closer to becoming reality

The Federal Communications Commission is seeking comment on a report, order and further notice of proposed rulemaking on the accuracy and usefulness of its Digital Opportunity Data Collection that is intended to more accurately determine residential and small business locations in the United States that do not have access to broadband services.

The FCC published the report and order in the Federal Register on August 22 and parts of it is set to become effective on September 23. Under the order, the FCC will collect geospatial broadband availability data from companies and use a crowdsourcing process on the accuracy of the maps.  Specifically, the FCC’s further notice of proposed rulemaking seeks comment on enhancing the new data collection, incorporating mobile voice and broadband and improving satellite broadband reporting.
Around the Texas Capitol – John Hubbard and Ian Randolph
Texas ushers in hundreds of new laws
One of the most important dates in the life of a bill does not occur during the session. It is September 1 in odd numbered years.

This year, some 820 bills became law on the first Sunday of September. 

There are typically four ways a bill can take effect. First, the Texas Constitution (Section 39, Article III) mandates bills that achieve more than a two-thirds vote in both chambers and has a clause for immediate effect can become law as soon as it passes both chambers of the Texas Legislature and action is taken by the governor. Second, the Texas Constitution stipulates that any bill that has no specific effective date takes effect 91 days after the end of the session. This year the 91st day was August 26. The third and the most common way a bill takes effective is with a September 1 effective date. This date has the benefit of being close to the constitutional date and gives agencies time to review and develop rules for many of these new laws. The fourth and final way a bill becomes effective is to stipulate alternative effective dates for bills that need more time to implement or otherwise require later dates to take effect.

After the Texas Legislature adjourned at the end of May, about 470 bills took effect before September 1. The 820 bills that took effect on September 1 represent more than half of 1,429 bills approved by the 86th Legislature. This leaves about 139 bills that had alternate effective dates. 

It is important to note some major bills, including the state budget, may have multiple effective dates for implementation of certain provisions. In addition, although a bill may have a certain effective date, state agencies might be given later dates to have time to develop rules for a new law. For example, SB 14, legislation dealing with electric cooperatives running high-speed fiber networks in electric easements,  took immediate effect. However, SB 1764, the emergency contact information bill supported by TTA, took effect September 1, but gives the Texas Department of Public Safety until January 1, 2020, to develop rules and make changes to the DPS website for the new program.

There were several important bills that took effect on September 1, including the state budget, the legislation to cap property tax revenue and the public school finance bill. Among other legislation taking effect on September 1 were bills raising the age to buy tobacco to 21-years-old, abolishing an unpopular drivers responsibility program and legalizing growing hemp (not marijuana).

The Legislature also created some 50 new criminal offenses, including laws addressing credit card skimmers and legislation targeting so-called “porch pirates” who steal packages from front porches. Notably, the Legislature also approved bills to address telemarketer fraud, including HB 101 which makes using false caller ID information a state crime and HB 1992 making “spoofing” caller ID illegal.

The Legislature also took care of other business.  State lawmakers approved legislation prohibiting local governments and homeowner associations from requiring permits for kids to operate lemonade stands. The Legislature also has removed brass knuckles from the list of prohibited weapons. A good thing too -- they may need them at the Capitol next session.
Association News
TTA convention spotlights technology, industry trends 
Telecommunications experts from across Texas and the nation explored some of the most pressing issues facing the industry during the Texas Telephone Association Convention and Product Showcase August 25-28 in San Antonio.

Scott Stringer, outgoing TTA board chairman and director of regulatory and legislative affairs at CenturyLink, welcomed conference attendees said rapid changes are facing the Texas telecommunications industry as technology has evolved and advanced.

“We are in a fast-changing world,’’ Stringer said.

Motivational speaker Tyler Campbell, the son of Earl (NFL Hall of Fame and Heisman Trophy winner) and Reuna Campbell, delivered the keynote address on Tuesday August 25. Tyler discussed overcoming adversity in “What It Means to Be a B.O.S.S.: Believe, Overcome, Strategize and Sacrifice.’’
Conference attendees received insight into regulatory activities at the state and federal level as well as action around the Texas Capitol while discussing some of the latest trends in telecommunications and technology.

Larry Thompson, Chief Executive Officer of Vantage Point Solutions, provided perspective on the Federal Communications Commission’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, and Derrick B. Owens, Senior Vice President of Government and Industry Affairs with WTA-Advocates for Rural Broadband, fielded questions on policy issues at the federal level.

Douglas Meredith, director of economics and policy with JSI , provided an overview of trends in broadband deployments across the nation, including business trends and consumer habits.
TTA recognizes telecommunications industry leaders
The Texas Telephone Association recognized telecommunications leaders for their contributions to the state’s telecommunications industry during the TTA Convention and Product Showcase August 25-28 in San Antonio.
Lyn Kamerman, TTA executive director, (left) with board chair Scott Stringer after receiving the prestigious Neville Haynes award
Wes Robinson, director of regulatory affairs for Eastex Telephone Cooperative, (right) with chair Scott Stringer after receiving the Outstanding Achievement Award
Ian Randolph (left) and John Hubbard with Premier Legislative Consulting with TTA Chair Scott Stringer (center) after receiving Associate Member of the Year awards
In the State and Around the Nation
State attorneys general joining fight against illegal robocalls
Attorneys general from every state have joined the fight against the growing scourge of robocalling.

Attorneys general from all 50 states and the District of Columbia on August 22 announced an agreement with a dozen telecommunications companies to deploy technologies to battle robocalls. The companies include AT&T, Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Consolidated Communications, Frontier, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon and Windstream.

“Texans’ private phones are being taken over by constant calls, invading their privacy and all too often defrauding them of their hard-earned money,” said Texas Attorney General Paxton in a news release . “And now we look forward to working with voice service providers to squash scammers’ access to Texans. We won’t stop until the robocalls do.”
FCC authorizes $4.9 billion for rural broadband
The Federal Communications Commission on August 22 authorized more than $4.9 billion in support over the next decade for maintaining, improving and expanding affordable rural broadband for 455,334 homes and businesses served by 171 carriers in 39 states including Texas.

“Our action today will help close the digital divide and is a win-win for rural Americans and taxpayers,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a news release . “Carriers get the predictable support they need to deliver broadband to their customers in these high-cost rural areas. And taxpayers, who fund this support through a fee on their phone bills, are getting more bang for their buck.”

The support is targeted to smaller rural “rate-of-return” carriers. These carriers agreed to accept support based on the FCC’s Alternative Connect America Cost Model, or A-CAM. The homes and businesses are in sparsely populated rural areas where deploying and maintaining broadband service is pricey and requires support from the FCC’s Universal Service Fund to facilitate network improvements and keep rates reasonably comparable to those in urban areas.

In return for the support, the companies must maintain, improve, and expand broadband throughout their service areas, including providing service of at least 25 Megabits per second downstream and 3 Mbps upstream to more than 363,000 locations. Providers will deliver the service on a schedule, with the first interim deployment deadline in 2022.

The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau also released authorization report 6.0 that shows the amount authorized and deployment obligations for each carrier. In Texas, these include Cameron Telephone Company, Coleman County Telephone Cooperative, Inc., Cumby Telephone Cooperative, Inc., Cap Rock Telephone Cooperative, Inc., Hill Country Telephone Cooperative, Inc., Santa Rosa Telephone Cooperative, Inc., South Plains Telephone Cooperative, Inc., and XIT Rural Telephone Cooperative, Inc.

In Texas, some 22 rural local phone companies have opted into the FCC’s A-CAM program and 21 remain on legacy federal support.
In the News
The Federal Communications Commission should scrap plans to cap a fund that helps subsidize phone and broadband internet service, 30 Democratic senators said in a Sept. 19 letter to agency Chairman Ajit Pai. Read more.

Global technology leader CenturyLink  (NYSE: CTL), has acquired privately held Streamroot Inc., a leading provider of disruptive technology, to improve video and static content delivery within bandwidth constrained areas. The acquisition represents another step in CenturyLink's commitment to innovation as a leader in content delivery network (CDN) and Edge Compute services. Read more.

Representatives of three broadband and telecom associations voiced support for legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives aimed at improving broadband maps which, among other things, are used to determine which areas receive support through the Universal Service Fund program. Read more.

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