Bill to Modernize Texas Universal Service Fund Passes House, Heads to Senate for Concurrence
AUSTIN – The Texas House of Representatives today passed legislation by state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, and Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, to modernize the state Universal Service Fund (USF) and bring much needed parity to telecommunications policy in Texas. The bill was approved by an overwhelming margin of 146-0.
“As I’ve said, enacting common sense USF modernization legislation that takes need into account was one of my top priorities this year,” said Carona, who chairs the Senate Business Commerce Committee. “I believe this bill strikes the appropriate balance between saving money and ensuring rural Texans continue to have access to landline phone service at affordable rates.”
“There has been a lot of discussion and debate from all across the state about the need to bring the USF program into the 21st Century,” said Cook, chairman of the House State Affairs Committee. “I am confident Senate Bill 583 will stabilize the program and deliver the reliable and affordable wireline telecommunications infrastructure that is so critical for continued job creation and economic prosperity in rural Texas.”
Senate Bill 583 right sizes the Texas Universal Service Fund (USF) by guaranteeing $96 million in savings in accordance with previous rulings by the Public Utility Commission.
Further, medium-size providers – those with more than 31,000 customers – would be required to meet a “Needs Test” developed and supervised by the PUC. Otherwise, support will be cut by 25 percent annually for three years beginning in 2017.
Small providers with fewer than 31,000 customers would continue to receive a predictable level of support until the end of 2017.
While wireless and broadband service continues to expand throughout the state, there are still large areas of rural Texas that are not served. Without the network of poles, buried cables and other infrastructure, there would be no wireline, broadband, or wireless service available to any metropolitan, suburban or rural area of the state.
“This bill ensures every rural Texan will be treated equitably, just like all of their neighbors, regardless of where they live, work or travel or regardless of who provides their telephone service,” said state Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, who was instrumental in helping craft the legislation.
“Senator Carona and Rep. Cook should be commended for their continued leadership in making sure that consumers in rural Texas continue to have access to affordable landline telephone service,” said Chris Barron, executive director of the State Firefighters’ and Fire Marshal’s Association of Texas, a trade organization representing thousands of first responders who rely on dependable wireline technology in the communities they serve.
“The engagement of these, and other key lawmakers served as a catalyst for thoughtful debate over our state’s telecommunications policy – one that will bring about a degree of certainty for rural Texans and the telecommunications providers that serve them,” Barron added.
Senate Bill 583 now returns to the Senate for a concurrence vote, expected to take place later this week. If passed, the legislation will be sent to Governor Perry for signature.
Editor’s Note: Keep Texas Connected is not affiliated with Connected Nation, Inc. nor with the program Connected Texas.
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About Keep Texas Connected
Through statewide collaboration with key stakeholders, Keep Texas Connected is an alliance of local government officials, emergency first responders, educational institutions, healthcare providers, industry leaders and private citizens who are dedicated to ensuring that every Texan has access to an affordable, reliable, and high-quality telecommunications network. For more information, visit the coalition Web site at www.keeptexasconnected.org.