Increase to some phones bills to benefit rural South Plains telecommunication services

Published: Aug. 30, 2022 at 9:42 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 30, 2022 at 9:45 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Some customers may have noticed an increase to their phone bill in August and others may see it on their September bill after the Public Utility Commission raised a surcharge for the Texas Universal Service Fund, which among other things, supports providers in rural service areas.

“The Texas Universal Service Fund was established a number of years ago to help rural areas have adequate telephone service,” Jim Whitefield, Executive VP & GM for Caprock Telephone in Spur, said. “It’s been a blessing to the rural areas to be able to have a type of service that people in more urban areas would have.”

According to reports, the Commission was court-ordered to make up a shortfall of $200 million in the Fund. That resulted in the Commission’s decision to raise the surcharge from 3.3 percent to 24 percent.

“Our legislators did a remarkable job in trying to prepare for this back in the 2021 session, but for whatever reason, it didn’t come to fruition,” Whitefield said. “[The Commission was] so far behind on it, that’s what made a large increase to get the fund whole and to catch up on it, which makes it pretty noticeable on some of the bills out there.”

According to the Commission, the fee is first assessed on telecommunications providers’ receipts for local, long distance, pager, wireless, and other telecommunications services. Those providers can pass the assessment to their residential and business customers, with certain exemptions.

The charge on a customer’s bill is based on services used, like the amount of long-distance calls or number of lines.

“We’ve already sent out one bill on it and we got very few calls from our constituents, our customers,” Whitefield said. “We didn’t get many at all. They recognize that it is a high-cost area and that we would be unable to do any of these things if it wasn’t available to us.”

Whitefield told KCBD that Caprock Telephone used money from the fund to upgrade infrastructure to ensure the rural community is able to connect by phone or internet. It is currently replacing copper cable, which is more than 30 years old, with fiber.

“All of these areas serve good causes, raise a lot of cotton, other crops, a lot of cattle,” Whitefield said. “Besides all the entities that I mentioned that are essential to our welfare, 911 you name it, public schools, all of those things, we’re able to provide them with the very best.”

Whitefield believes the increase to bills will only be temporary until the fund is made whole again.