Due to social distancing efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 and TTA’s member companies’ assistance to their local communities, TTA’s member companies have experienced unprecedented levels of growth in 2020. TTA members, including BBT, Central Texas Telecommunications, CenturyLink, Consolidated Communications, Eastex Telephone Cooperative, Hill Country Telephone Cooperative, VTX1, and Windstream, were all recognized by the Federal Communications Commission for going above and beyond with their efforts to assist their local communities through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regulatory activities are heating up with the State of Texas beginning to reopen, and staff members of the Public Utility Commission of Texas (“Commission”) returning to the office. On April 29, 2020, the Commission opened a new proceeding in Project No. 50796 to address the declining balance of the Texas Universal Service Fund (“TUSF”). Concerned that the Commission might simply increase the assessment rate utilizing the current revenue-based assessment mechanism in the new proceeding, TTA filed a petition for rulemaking in Project No. 50818 on May 6, 2020. TTA encourages the Commission to consider reforming the assessment mechanism to a connections-based mechanism. Commission Chairman DeAnn Walker filed a memo on May 13, 2020, proposing that the Commission seek public comment on funding alternatives that TTA proposed in Project No. 50818, thus achieving TTA’s objectives in filing the rulemaking petition and resulting in TTA withdrawing its rulemaking petition.
During the Commission’s May 14, 2020, Open Meeting, the Commission unanimously agreed to issue an order seeking comment on the issues addressed in Chairman Walker’s memorandum, with comments due May 29, 2020. TTA plans to continue its leadership role in this issue by filing comments and looks forward to working with the Commission and other industry participants to find long-term solutions to stabilize the TUSF. It appears that the Commission may act upon the comments at the June 12, 2020, Open Meeting, which is incredibly soon considering TTA’s rulemaking petition was filed on May 6, 2020.