Your phone bill is going to go up in September and no one has told you yet

Attention all Texans with a cell phone or landline: The Watchdog has bad news.

Starting with September’s phone bill, your bill will increase.

I can’t give you an exact number other than to say that all phone users in Texas will contribute to a $210 million fund to pay off a debt arrears with rural phone companies and phone cooperatives.

While I can’t pinpoint your jump exactly, I can show you below how to get an estimate of your respective jump in price.

In my case, the increase in this surcharge — called the Texas Universal Service Fund — increases the USF fee on my bill from $2 a month to $14.

Who is to blame for this fiasco? Our old friends who previously ran the (Public) Utility Commission before being fired for incompetence following the February 2021 freezeout disaster. (Remember I took away the “P” until UC shows more care for the public.)

Another culprit here is Governor Greg Abbott.

Both had a chance to fix this, but both pulled out. I’ll show you why

If you get a déjà vu feeling that you’ve heard this before, it’s similar to the power crisis.

Just like with the power crisis, Abbott and his former (p)UC commissioners left us on the side of the road, drove off, and let us pay the bills.

Each month, Texas phone users contribute to the Universal Service Fund so dozens of rural phone companies can provide phone service to millions of Texans living in remote areas. Wiring costs are too high.

In recent years, (p)UC has defaulted on payments required by Texas law. The rate was 3.3% of the basic service cost of your phone bill.

In June 2020, (p)UC staff recommended increasing the fee to 6%, but Commissioner Arthur D’Andrea blocked it by saying, “This is not the time when we should be raising taxes on the people.”

The (p)UC Chair, DeAnn WalkerHe said to “leave the fund as it is.”

Until they resign in disgrace, these are the three government-appointed PUC commissioners....
Until they left office in disgrace, these were the three PUC commissioners appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott who failed to handle the rural telephone surcharges when they had the opportunity. (From left) Shelly Botkin, Chair DeAnn Walker and Arthur D’Andrea.(Screenshot of the last PUC meeting)

When the Texas legislature tried to fix the backlog last year, Abbott vetoed the billand said, “It would have imposed a new fee on millions of Texans.”

Well, I’m all for lockdown fees, but in this case, avoiding the problem increases the new rate from 3.3% to a whopping 24%.

“That amazed us from the start,” says Mark Seale of the Texas Telephone Company about avoiding this growing debt by state leaders. “If they had raised the rate to 6% two years ago, they would have avoided this whole thing.”

As time passed and no help was in sight, the telephone company followed suit Texas Statewide Telephone Cooperative sued the (p)UC in Travis County.

Last month, an appeals court ruled in favor of the phone companies.

Then, this month, without public discussion, the (p)UC quietly approved an executive order increasing the tariff from 3.3% to 24% effective August 1. A note will be added to your phone bill.

USF was originally formed 30 years ago to provide every Texan with dial tone access to 911. Now many rural phone companies are using funds to replace old copper lines with fiber optics, which brings with it better internet service. But the USF does not include data, only voice calls. The fee everyone pays is based on your specific phone line subscription.

Without the $200 million expected by small businesses, many went into debt and couldn’t hire workers, Seale said.

The Cap Rock Telephone Cooperative, located 300 miles west of Dallas in Spur, serves 3,600 telephone lines over an area of ​​5,000 square miles – averaging nearly one telephone line per square mile.

Jim Whitefield, general manager of Cap Rock, told me that the funds “will help us catch up and complete the build fiber optic network to our customers.”

Now that you know why there is a $200 million backlog and you will pay for it if your company passes it on, how can you calculate your estimated increase? Each company handles this differently, so there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

Take out your most recent phone bill – cell and/or landline – and look for the “Texas Universal Service” item. (Don’t confuse it with another unrelated position for “Federal Universal Charge.”)

Since I have three cellular lines on my family bill, I saw the charge listed in three places. The fee for my wife and my son was 29 cents each. Mine was $1.47. Add them up and my total monthly USF payment for June was $2.05.

For a rough estimate, take that total and multiply it by 7 (an increase from 3.3% to 24% is almost 7 times larger).

That’s how I came up with $14.35.

For you it could be less – or more. But for businesses that make a lot of calls, it should be a lot more.

If you can’t find the USF on your bill, contact your phone company. If that doesn’t work, call (p)UC.

Seale of the Telephone Association said, “We think this increase is likely to give ratepayers across the state a little sticker shock, whether they’re rural or urban.”

I hate being the bearer of bad news, but someone had to tell you.

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