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.
“I just wanted to keep it status quo for awhile to see if we can't slow this thing down,” said Peters, R-Tulsa.
Barry Moore, a lobbyist for rural telephone companies, told committee members that an agreement could be reached in two to three months with rural telephone carriers, AT&T and the state attorney general's office, which is intended to address the increased demand for services.
Demand for improved Internet service has been caused mostly as telemedicine files changed from basic X-rays to more detailed MRIs and large medical and laboratory reports. More broadband space is needed to transmit the larger files. There is no regulation on how much bandwidth the entities can get, Peters said.