Next step considered after State abolished High Cost Telephone Fund

After voting in February to phase out the controversial Oklahoma High Cost Fund, one designed to help rural phone companies, the Corporation Commission begins an investigation this week into the impact on the Oklahoma Universal Service Fund and the Oklahoma Lifeline Fund.

The Commission plans to hold a technical conference on Thursday as it explores the funds and how they’re affected by the abolishment of the Oklahoma High Cost Fund. The High Cost fund was the result of a fee on the bills of Oklahomans with traditional land-line service.

But as more and more Oklahomans switched to cell phones and gave up their land lines, it resulted in fewer customers paying for the OHCF. As a result, the 150 percent surcharge on land-line intrastate long distance service will be reduced in February 2019 and be totally phased out by February 2022.

The technical hearing will focus on other issues such as Voice Over Internet Protocol service and the commission’s ability to advance and support deployment of broadband networks. A number of questions are being raised by the commission such as whether the purpose of universal service be changed to reflect current technologies and customer demand?

Should Primary Universal Services funded by the OUSF be treated differently based on their provision in rural areas vs. provision in urban areas?

And there’s this one: Does current law and the Commission’s process provide adequate assurance that recipients of OUSF funds are accountable for the funds they receive to preserve and advance universal service in Oklahoma?

The fund has been criticized for its lack of accountability including last year when OK Energy Today reported how it was attacked by the General Accountability Office.

Action by the Federal Communications Commission over the Lifeline program which receives financing from Universal Service Fund fees has angered Oklahoma tribes. The former reservation lands for the program to help low-income households were redefined by the FCC, dropping urban areas such as Oklahoma City and Norman.

The commission, in announcing the technical conference indicated more than one conference might be needed. It also set a full commission meeting to discuss the fund on October 18 at 9:30 a.m.