Surcharge for universal service to increase
A surcharge that helps telephone companies provide service to high-cost rural areas will increase slightly on Oct. 1 as a result of an order signed by the Idaho Public Utilities Commission.
The Idaho Telecommunications Act of 1988 created the Universal Service Fund (USF) to maintain universal availability of local telephone service at reasonable rates in areas where greater distances and fewer customers makes providing service more costly than providing the same service in urban areas. Idaho Code 62-610A, states that, “all consumers in this state, without regard to their location, should have comparable accessibility to basic telecommunications services at just and reasonable rates.” With assistance from the Universal Service Fund, rural telephone companies are able to keep their rates at no more than 25 percent above rates in more urban areas.
All telephone companies pay to the fund through a surcharge on customer bills. The commission’s order increases the amount telephone customers pay from 10 cents per residential line per month to 12 cents and from 17 cents per business line to 19 cents. Customers of long distance companies also pay the surcharge. The surcharge for in-state toll calls will increase from $.003 (three-tenths of a cent) per minute to $.0035 per minute.
The surcharge collected $1.73 million for USF through June 30, but payments from USF to the eight rural companies that qualify totaled $1.82 million. Although disbursements are down from $1.94 million last year, disbursements still exceed the amount collected by the surcharge, necessitating the increase.
With the increasing use of cellular phones, the number of residential and business landlines continues to decrease. As of May 1, telephone companies reported an inventory of 328,592 residential lines, a nearly 11 percent decrease from the previous year. Business lines also decreased by 2 percent to 219,752. Long-distance billed minutes declined by 6 percent.
The eight telephone companies that qualify for USF disbursements include: Albion Telephone Company, Cambridge Telephone Company, Direct Comm of Rockland, Inland Telephone Company of Roslyn, Wash. (serving Idaho customers in Lenore and Leon), Fremont Telecom, Inc. of St. Anthony; Midvale Telephone Exchange, Rural Telephone Co. of Glenns Ferry and Silver Star Telephone Co. of Freedom Wyo. (serving Idaho customers in the eastern portions of Bonneville and Caribou counties).
A full text of the commission’s order is available on the commission’s Web site at www.puc.idaho.gov. Click on “File Room” and then on “Telecommunications Cases” and scroll down to Case No. GNR-T-10-04. Interested parties may petition the commission for reconsideration by no later than Sept. 21. Petitions for reconsideration must state why the order is unreasonable, unlawful or erroneous. Petitions should include a statement of the nature and quantity of evidence the petitioner will offer if reconsideration is granted.
Petitions can be delivered to the commission at 472 W. Washington St. in Boise, mailed to P.O. Box 83720, Boise, ID, 83720-0074, or faxed to 208-334-3762.