State regulators likely to deal with Universal Service Fund hike in 2020

The New Year 2020 is likely to bring another rate hike in Oklahoma phone bills to pay for the state’s Universal Service Fund, despite criticism and opposition by two Oklahoma Corporation Commissioners.

If approved by the commission, it means the monthly service fee on most Oklahoma’s phone bills will go up about 3%. The increase has been defended by Brandy Wreath, administrator of the Oklahoma Universal Service Fund. He is also director of the Corporation Commission’s Public Utility Division and recently told an administrative law judge the increase is necessary because of growing obligations by the fund.

“Reported revenues by contributing providers are down 20%, or $11.5 million, from the projected level,” Wreath said. “This revenue decline is also being seen at the federal level.”

Oklahoma phone company customers support the fund which in turn finances small and rural-focused telephone companies. The fund also pays for internet services to hospitals, public libraries, schools and even state prisons. The current fee is 6.28% on monthly bills, an amount that was increased in May 2019.

Commissioners Bob Anthony and Todd Hiett have been opponents of further increases in the fund. Anthony has also been a critic of the Fund because financial operations of the small rural phone companies are secret, operations in which some family-owned companies include huge payments to executives.

Source: The Oklahoman