Idaho Public Utilities Commission

Case No. TMW-T-10-01, Order No. 32319

August 10, 2011

Contact: Gene Fadness (208) 334-0339, 890-2712

Website: www.puc.idaho.gov

 

T-Mobile eligible for federal, state funds

 

T-Mobile West Corp. qualifies as an “eligible telecommunications carrier” (ETC) in Idaho, according to an order issued by the Idaho Public Utilities Commission.

 

ETC status means T-Mobile can receive support from the federal Universal Service Fund, created by Congress to ensure that telephone consumers in rural areas – where it costs more to build a telephone network – can have access to the same telecommunications services as consumers in urban areas at roughly the same cost. All telephone companies providing interstate service contribute to the USF. The companies pass that cost on to their customers who pay a portion of their bill each month to support the Universal Service Fund. For residential wireline and wireless customers in Idaho the charge is 12 cents per month and for business customers, 19 cents. 

 

In recent years, competitive wireless companies have been allowed to receive the same federal support as wireline companies if state commissions find that ETC designation promotes competition and is in the public interest.

 

T-Mobile currently provides wireless service in various locations around the state. With ETC status, T-Mobile asserts it will provide all the universal services supported by the USF including access to directory and emergency services and will make discounted services available to qualifying low-income customers through the Idaho Telephone Service Assistance Plan called “Lifeline.” Idaho residential, business and wireless customers pay 6 cents per month for the state’s contribution to the Lifeline program.  

 

“Granting ETC status will benefit consumers by offering new services and increased competition,” the commission said. “In addition, we find granting T-Mobile ETC status will provide rural customers with greater access to wireless services,” as well as being beneficial to low- and fixed-income customers who qualify for Lifeline service discounts

 

A number of companies already providing service in Idaho, including Allied Wireless, CTC Wireless, Syringa Wireless and Rural Wireless, objected to the T-Mobile application on two grounds: 1) AT&T’s application before the Federal Communications Commission to acquire T-Mobile threatens the USF in Idaho and 2) that T-Mobile failed to demonstrate that it will adequately service both non-rural and rural areas. 

 

The opposing companies, calling themselves the Telecom Group, contended that the FCC may approve the AT&T merger only under a condition that T-Mobile surrender its USF support as the FCC did with two 2008 mergers. That, the Telecom Group said, would reduce the total high-cost USF support available to Idaho.  However, the commission noted that the FCC did not impose similar conditions in merger cases as recent as 2009. Further, in the 2008 merger cases, the companies voluntarily agreed to phase out high-cost support. “We find that it is unreasonable to delay or reject T-Mobile’s ETC application based on what the FCC may or may not decide in the AT&T and T-Mobile transaction,” the commission said.

 

The Telecom Group argued that T-Mobile did not provide enough information regarding its plan to adequately serve more costly rural areas in the territory it seeks to serve. The commission said T-Mobile’s application met the commission requirements and that a two-year network plan is submitted every year. “We find this annual requirement will hold T-Mobile accountable for making a reasonable effort to implement its two-year network plan and its ETC status may be revoked if it does not,” the commission said. 

 

T-Mobile said that the opposition to the ETC application is a “naked attempt” to avoid or delay enhanced competition in the rural areas of Idaho.

 

The areas T-Mobile will serve include those areas already served by these rural telecom companies: Albion, CenturyTel, Columbine, Direct Communications, Farmers Mutual, Filer Mutual, Fremont Telecom, Mud Lake Telephone Cooperative, Potlatch, Project Mutual and Silver Star. 

 

A full text of the commission’s order, along with other documents related to this case, is available on the commission’s Web site at www.puc.idaho.gov. Click on the telephone icon, then on “Open Telecom Cases,” and scroll down to Case No. TMW-T-10-01.

 

Interested parties may petition the commission for reconsideration by no later than Aug. 30. Petitions for reconsideration must set forth specifically why the petitioner contends that 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.