The Regulatory Mix, TMI’s daily blog of regulatory activities, is a snapshot of PUC, FCC, legislative, and occasionally court, issues that our regulatory monitoring team uncovers each day. Depending on their significance, some items may be the subject of a TMI Regulatory Bulletin.
Forty-four U.S. Senators have sent a letter to FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler calling on the FCC to implement a policy change that permits Universal Service Fund (USF) support for carriers that provide rural consumers with broadband-only services. Under current FCC rules, if a rural consumer buys voice services (with or without accompanying broadband services) from a small rural telephone company, the carrier is eligible for USF support. However, if the same rural consumer decides to buy only broadband services, the carrier is no longer eligible to receive USF support for that subscriber. The Senators said that: “While it is important that the FCC complete its implementation of Phase II of the Connect America Fund in areas served by larger carriers this year, the FCC should nonetheless address smaller carrier support mechanisms expeditiously, accounting for their unique operations. Consumers in areas served by smaller rural carriers should have the same fundamental choices among reasonably comparable services at reasonably comparable rates as consumers in other rural and urban areas.”
The FCC issued a $3.9 million Notice of Apparent Liability for forfeiture against a Colorado Springs, CO long distance company for deceptively switching customers’ services and illegal billing practice. The company, Central Telecom Long Distance, Inc. allegedly tricked consumers into believing that the telemarketers were calling on behalf of the consumers’ existing telephone companies, then changed the consumers’ preferred carriers without their authorization. Many consumers stated in their complaints that they had never heard of Central or did not intend to sign up for its services. In many instances, Central and its representatives appeared to have exploited elderly or disabled consumers’ obvious confusion and inability to understand the sales pitch they heard and the questions they were asked. The FCC said this type of conduct was “particularly egregious,” and that a sizable fine was warranted due to the “substantial harm” that Central caused to the public. One particular complaint was filed on behalf of a deceased elderly grandmother whom Central continued to bill for months after she died and even after her telephone was disconnected.
A new law in Oklahoma will reduce the amount of reimbursement Eligible Telecommunications Carriers (ETCs) can receive from the Oklahoma Lifeline Fund to $0.02 per month per Lifeline subscriber. The current reimbursement rate is $1.17 per month per customer. The new law will become effective November 1, 2014.