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Measure to cap fees to rural Oklahoma phone companies fails

Oklahoma House panel rejects a bill that was intended to slow down the amount of money being paid to rural telephone carriers. The money comes from fees assessed telephone and cellphone customers.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: February 29, 2012

An attempt to stop the increasing fee Oklahoma telephone customers see on their telephone and cellphone bills got disconnected Tuesday when a legislative panel killed a proposal to cap how much money would go to subsidize telephone service mostly in rural areas.

The House of Representatives Energy and Utility Regulation Committee voted 18-6 to not pass House Bill 2727.

Rep. Ron Peters said his measure would have capped the Oklahoma Universal Service Fund at $5.5 million, the amount paid to rural telephone companies this fiscal year to provide basic services.

Money for the fund has increased substantially, however, to provide Internet service used by eligible entities. About $52 million was needed last year.

Doug Fulp, with Verizon, said cellphone customers have seen their fees on each line increase from 10 cents in 2008 to about $1.20. The fees should be listed on bills as going to the Oklahoma Universal Service Fund.

State law requires the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to approve the amount of Internet and telephone service used by eligible entities, which mostly include rural nonprofit medical centers, public schools and libraries.

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