The process rural phone companies could use to qualify for future support under the settlement was flawed, said Richard Severy, an attorney representing Verizon. The typical wireless customer could pay an extra $25 per year from Oklahoma Universal Service Fund fees, while landline customers could pay another $16 each year, he said.
“It is not reasonable, fair or sound policy to burden millions of wireless and wireline customers with surcharges of this magnitude in the absence of clear and succinct evidence that it is necessary to do so to subsidize service that is substantially below market rates to fewer than 200,000 wireline customers,” Severy said.
Ron Comingdeer, who represents rural telephone companies, said there was no evidence the companies would be getting the same level of support with the abolishment of the High Cost Fund.
“We don't know the cost studies yet,” Comingdeer said. “Any kind of implication or arguments about the impact on consumers is pure speculation at this point.”
AT&T Oklahoma's attorney, John Gray Jr., said the High Cost Fund is not just being transferred to the Oklahoma Universal Service Fund.
“Those funds are not going into the OUSF,” Gray said. “What's happening is all these RLECs (rural local exchange companies) will have to go up and prove how much money they need, not based on what they got from the High Cost Fund. They'll have to go through a revenue review to make that determination.”
Commissioner Bob Anthony asked rural telephone companies why they weren't willing to share information on how much each receives from the High Cost Fund. Wireless companies asked several times during the case to see confidential information from the rural providers to see if the funding was still needed. They were denied because the information is closed under terms of a protective order from the 1996 case establishing the High Cost Fund.
Comingdeer told Anthony the amounts for each company would reflect their market share and disclosing it could hinder their competitiveness.