TELL GOVERNOR ABBOTT TO PROTECT RURAL COMMUNICATIONS INCLUDING RURAL BROADBAND

TELL GOVERNOR ABBOTT TO PROTECT RURAL COMMUNICATIONS INCLUDING RURAL BROADBAND

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Weldon Gray started this petition to Texas Governor

STATE OFFICIALS’ ACTIONS JEOPARDIZE RURAL COMMUNICATIONS INCLUDING RURAL BROADBAND

Services provided to rural Texas by rural telephone providers are in jeopardy.  The statewide communications network is at risk and needs your help.  Small and Rural Telecommunications providers, which cover more than 50% of the state, maintain the communications network which allows Texans access to the world.  This network not only provides basic phone service, but is a hybrid network which allows rural Texans access to voice, broadband and other services.  It is also the backbone which transports voice and data across the state thus allowing all Texans to communicate whether by landline or by mobile device.  This network is unsustainable without the Texas Universal Service Fund (“TUSF”) which collects fees from telecommunications providers across the state and distributes the funds according to statute to make sure all Texans have access to services at reasonable and comparable rates.  Over the past year, the PUC has failed to take necessary action to collect the funds required to meet the statutory obligations of the fund.  The Governor further escalated this issue by vetoing important legislation in HB 2667 intended to give the PUC direction on this issue.  Since January, 2021 high-cost and rural telecommunications providers have only received about 30% of the funds which statute and PUC determinations entitle them to receive.  If rural telecommunications providers are required to make up this revenue shortfall from their customers alone, rural customers face increases to their local phone bills that may range from $25.00 to nearly $200.00 a month.  Without these revenues to sustain these rural networks, critical infrastructure and access to voice and broadband in Texas is at risk.  By signing this petition, you are asking that state officials follow the law and ensure the stability of the communications network across Texas.          

We need Texas Governor Abbott and the Texas Public Utility Commission to act now to restore adequate funding for Texas providers and customers.

The signatories to this petition ask:

1.      That the Governor immediately instruct the PUC to take all actions necessary to stabilize the TUSF and meet all obligations of the fund set forth by law, and/or;

2.      That the PUC take statutorily required actions to stabilize the TUSF and meet all obligations of the fund set forth in the law, their own prior orders, and confirmed during testimony to the Legislative Branch of Government.

PLEASE SIGN OUR PETITION, AND SHARE THIS PETITION WITH EVERYONE YOU KNOW ASKING THEM TO SIGN AND SUPPORT RURAL PROVIDERS AND RURAL SERVICES.

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Read more here for the rest of the story from a recent press release:

            Services provided to rural Texas by rural telephone providers are in jeopardy.  Texas state officials’ actions place all telecommunications services, including broadband internet access, at risk for both residential and business customers.   The Texas Public Utility Commission failed to act and Governor Greg Abbott vetoed legislation confirming the statutory requirements of funding the Texas Universal Service Fund.

            “Without the reversal of state officials’ actions in the very near future, Texas’ rural residents can expect the degradation, and perhaps even elimination, of even very basic telephone services, as well as many advanced services, such as those associated with internet use over broadband, and transport of wireless/cellular calling and data” according to many managers of Texas’ rural providers.

            The majority of Texas’ rural areas are provided telecommunications services by more than 40 small telephone cooperatives and companies that serve more than 50 percent of the geographic area of Texas. Because of the low density of population in rural areas, Texas has long supported and legislated the philosophy of Universal Service and the Universal Service Fund.  This financial support is required by both state and federal law and allows rural companies to provide service equal to similar service provided by the large deregulated national companies at comparable prices.  Under present law, USF financial support is provided to local carriers based on the portion of their network attributable to basic telecommunications services which only includes voice telephone service, however, this same network provides the infrastructure and interconnecting network of fiber-optic lines which allow customers access to high-speed broadband internet. The Texas Universal Service Fund (TUSF) is funded, not through a general tax, but through a uniform charge on the revenues of the state’s telecommunications providers.

            This warning by the Texas’ rural telephone providers is made following two distinct actions by Texas state officials regarding payments from the TUSF.   “First, the Public Utility Commission, which regulates rural telephone service, has under collected revenues and thus stopped providing the full and approved amount of TUSF funding which that agency itself had previously ordered as necessary in dozens of individual company rate proceedings,” explained Weldon R. Gray, the CEO of Texas Statewide Telephone Cooperative, Inc. (“TSTCI”), the statewide association that represents 25 of Texas’ 46 small companies which receive TUSF funding.

            “That action, statewide, amounts to approximately $10 million per month since January in reduced TUSF payments to rural companies,” said Gray. “We have challenged that unlawful action in court, but that is a slow, drawn out process and basic services will likely decline before a judicial answer is rendered.”  Since the PUC took this action to essentially defund rural telephone service, the winter storm in mid-February forced the resignation of the three PUC commissioners who made the initial decision. The Governor has since appointed new PUC commissioners and these commissioners have the authority and could fully restore funding under current law. However, so far no action has been forthcoming. According to Gray, “the matter has not been on any PUC agenda in more than a year.” Because of the PUCs actions, TSTCI turned to the Texas Legislature this spring to adopt H.B. 2667, to address TUSF contributions in order to compel the Commission to lawfully restore full TUSF funding to rural areas. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. John Smithee and Sen. Charles Perry and received overwhelming affirmative support from both Republicans and Democrats in passing the Legislature. However, without advanced notice of any concerns, it was vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 18.

            “It remains a mystery to us why Governor Abbott vetoed such a popular bi-partisan measure that means so much to rural citizens of the state,” Gray added.  “In his veto Statement, the Governor referenced transformational broadband reform, but these actions by both the PUC and the Governor work in direct contradiction to those initiatives.  TSTCI and other rural telecommunications providers are on record supporting the broadband bills as initiatives to expand broadband access despite the fact that the majority of the areas that they serve will not be eligible under any of the programs created.”

Gray explained, “In reality, many rural areas, including the areas served by TSTCI’s members, already have broadband which far exceeds the standards set forth in the broadband legislation.  This is because small rural providers who are recipients of support from the TUSF have built hybrid networks capable of telephone service, broadband and all forms of high-tech communications service.  TUSF is a key revenue component which allows these hybrid networks to exist.  While TUSF is calculated and based on the portion of that network attributable to voice services, without these revenues, the network as a whole is unsustainable.  Failure to stabilize the TUSF places critical infrastructure and existing broadband in much of rural Texas directly at risk.”

            Gray estimates that unless the courts, or the PUC, take corrective action in the very near future, Texas rural residents will start seeing a rapid decline in the quality of their basic telephone services, dramatic increases in local rates, or both.  Any service failure of these basic services will also adversely impact the rural infrastructure and networks necessary to accommodate the full range of advanced telecommunications services (i.e. broadband internet, wireless calling, internet movies and gaming, and data transfer services) on which rural Texas relies.

            “These detrimental actions by Texas state officials, if not corrected in the immediate near future, could have devastating effects not only on Texas rural small business and residential consumers, but also on those major rural business users such as farming, oil and gas development, border security, feedlots, ranching, cotton gins, etc.”   

            Texas Governor Abbott and the Texas Public Utility Commission must act now to restore adequate funding for Texas providers and customers.

The signatories to this petition ask:

1.      That the Governor immediately instruct the PUC to take all actions necessary to stabilize the TUSF and meet all obligations of the fund set forth by law, and/or;

2.      That the PUC take statutorily required actions to stabilize the TUSF and meet all obligations of the fund as set forth in the law, their own prior orders, and confirmed during testimony to the Legislative Branch of Government.

PLEASE SIGN OUR PETITION, AND SHARE THIS PETITION WITH EVERYONE YOU KNOW ASKING THEM TO SIGN AND SUPPORT RURAL PROVIDERS AND RURAL SERVICES.

0 have signed. Let’s get to 1,000!
At 1,000 signatures, this petition is more likely to be featured in recommendations!