Oklahoma Corporation Commissioners approved minor changes in the rules governing telecom companies in a contentious meeting Tuesday.
Commissioners Dana Murphy and Bob Anthony clashed over several proposed changes to the rules offered by the commission’s public utility division.
Much of the disagreement was over how much time the commission has left to issue new rules, which are due to the Legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin for their approval by an April 1 deadline.
After a two-hour meeting, commissioners approved a change in the definition for nonprofit hospitals eligible for broadband service subsidies from the Oklahoma Universal Service Fund.
The special universal service fund share of that program has grown to $24.5 million, up from $8.7 million in 2008. Money for the subsidy comes from fees added to telephone customer bills.
The commissioners scrapped plans for additional paperwork requirements for companies providing Lifeline telephone service for low-income Oklahomans. They decided not to change a formula to determine how much a telecom company should contribute to the Oklahoma Universal Service Fund. Commissioners also declined to add prepaid wireless providers to the types of telecom companies contributing to the fund.
Anthony said he wasn’t happy that staff at the public utility division offered rule revisions just before the meeting. Murphy said some of the changes that had consensus should have been kept after months of technical conferences and meetings leading to the proposed rules.
“Some of us took the time to come to all the meetings and listen in on all of it,” Murphy said. “It just seems remarkable to me that at the last minute, all of this has to be just undone. ... This is not the way I think rule makings should be done or considered when there’s been lots of effort put into it.”
Anthony said some of the proposed rules weren’t supported by the commission’s authority under current law.
“I think it’s unfortunate we didn’t have greater resolution,” Anthony said. “Reading through the comments, it looked like these are controversial subjects, so we did, I think, the best we could under the circumstances.”
In an interview after the meeting, Commissioner Patrice Douglas said several telecom companies disagreed with the proposed rules. Douglas said she worried it could take days or months to work out the differences.
“We’ve cautioned our staff that we want businesses to actually learn and comply with our rules before we implement new ones,” Douglas said. “What I was fearful of today after we started getting all the comments filed was that there would be so much disagreement and so much controversy that we wouldn’t get the basic things done we had to get done.”
Douglas said she still has concerns about the Lifeline program, which she said is riddled with fraud and abuse in Oklahoma. Aside from possible rule changes, additional legislation or coordination with the Federal Communications Commission might be needed, she said.
“It seemed like the comments showed there were disagreements among folks about how to manage that program and whether we were over-reaching,” Douglas said. “My goal is to stop fraud and abuse in the Lifeline program.”