Customers of ATT in Oklahoma will be getting a shock in the mail soon. Their contribution to finance the Oklahoma Universal Service Fund will increase nearly 5 times effective July 1.
ATT recently notified the Corporation Commission of its intent to raise the OUSF rate from the current 75 cents a month to $3.91 a month. And other communication companies could be doing the same.
“Oklahomans should pay more attention to the obscure, yet ever-increasing OUSF charges on their phone bills,” warned Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony in a May 8, 2019 filing about the matter.
The OUSF was created in 1997 by the legislature to provide subsidies without direct taxation for primary universal service and free services for schools, libraries, hospitals that provide telemedicine and county governments.
The Federal Communications Commission announced earlier in the week that the third quarter 2019 universal service contribution factor would be 24.4 percent. As a result, the projected program support would be $2.2 billion for the Universal Service Fund nationwide.
How the money is spent by ATT and the numerous small independent telephone companies that provide the support is at issue before the Corporation Commission. That’s because under regulations of the commission, the details are kept private.
The public has no access to learn how many employees each small company has, nor is information provided about salaries of those workers. The companies do not have to reveal how many customers they serve.
But Commissioner Anthony also warned in his early May filing that most OUSF annual payments had provided support of internet service for schools, libraries and hospitals, the new higher amounts are going mostly to independent telephone companies and their owners. But not even he can obtain some of the private information about spending.
“Lawmakers and ratepayers both should be curious to know how many small independent telephone companies with fewer than 1,000 total customers receive annually over $1 million each in subsidies essentially paid mostly by phone customers of ATT, Verizon, Cox and Sprint,” he wrote. “Since the Oklahoma Constitution designates telephone companies as regulated public utilities and they get multi-million dollar subsidies, shouldn’t the OUSF payouts and number of subsidized phone lines be public, not confidential information?”