TCT customers could lose service under proposed FCC rules

Universal Service Fund to be replaced

A new proposal by the Federal Communications Commission to reform the way rural telecommunications services are supported has small rural telephone companies like Tri-County Telephone Association, Council Grove, concerned about the future of telecommunications services in their areas.

Under proposed changes, rural telephone companies would receive less funding, and large companies would receive more.

Every telephone bill received by customers includes a Universal Service Fee. That fee helps fund services in areas with low populations. Rural services are more expensive to provide compared with services in highly-populated urban areas.

In recent years, TCT, which provides services to 14 communities including Lincolnville, Lost Springs, Ramona, and Tampa, has used private investment and low-interest loans provided through the USF for establishing a rural high-speed network for its internet customers. The company recently installed fiber-optic lines to provide more efficient service.

“Small, community-based rural broadband providers have put Universal Service funds to good use for the customers we serve,” public relations spokesman Angela Schwerdtfeger said. “We’ve brought them affordable, cutting-edge broadband Internet service so they can access the same high-speed Internet as that enjoyed by other Americans living in big cities.

“It is essential to helping government at all levels deliver needed services to constituents, providing tele-medicine services so patients can get medical care when needed, and helping small business — the backbone of job creation in rural America — grow and thrive.”

She noted that farmers and ranchers also use the Internet to get information and conduct business.

Schwerdtfeger said the proposed changes in funding not only would threaten high broadband costs for rural consumers and businesses, but also would result in job losses and loss of revenue to the state.

The FCC is proposing to replace the Universal Service Fund with a Connect America Fund that, according to TCT, favors metropolitan areas.

The rule change was proposed in February by the six largest telecommunications companies in the country. Under the rule, these huge companies would receive some of the money now allocated to the small companies. The large carriers claim they need the money to provide broadband to people who are not served in their areas.

If implemented, the new rule could eventually drive the small telecommunications companies out of business. They depend on USF funds to repay loans to install the infrastructure and to maintain their networks.

In order to stay viable, TCT would have to reduce employees, charge higher rates, and reduce services such as the speed at which customers could connect to the Internet.

This could cause businesses to relocate to urban areas and individuals to lose access to tele-medicine and tele-education.

TCT encourages its customers to contact their Congressmen and the White House about the negative impact the new rule could have on their community.

For more information and to send a letter, visit www.saveruralbroadband.org.

Last modified Sept. 1, 2011

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