New Mexico Issues a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to Revise its State Rural Universal Service Fund
This past Wednesday, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (NMPRC) approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) to revise New Mexico’s State Rural Universal Service Fund following numerous workshops and filings by NMPRC staff, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office, and both wireline and wireless industry participants in Case No. 12-00380-UT. The NOPR will revise 17.11.10 New Mexico Administrative Code (NMAC). The NOPR will be published for comment, with the goal of providing a final rule by October 1, 2014 that will limit the growth of the State Rural Universal Service Fund (SRUSF), expand telecommunication service to unserved and underserved areas of the state, earmark a portion of the fund for the build out of broadband service, and ensure better accountability for the use of state funds under the program.
The proposed rule was approved 5-0, with two amendments, by the Commission. The NOPR is expected to be filed in Case No. 12-00380-UT on Monday, July 28, 2014. Let’s briefly summarize several key provisions of the proposed NOPR, subject to comments being filed and final approval by the Commission.
First, because many wireline companies have not increased their residential rates in a rate proceeding before the Commission for over 15 years, the benchmark rate for residential customers will increase to $18.09. A company that chooses not to raise its benchmark would have the difference subtracted from what it would normally receive from the SRUSF. Second, business rates will be adjusted over a three year period. Third, the formula for reimbursement from the fund will be adjusted to use 2012 voice minutes. Minutes have decreased since the SRUSF statute and rules were established. The decrease has occurred because more people are using wireless phones and other services. This will result in a reduction in payouts from the fund, which is funded by all telephone customers (both wireline and wireless). The end result will be a reduction of about $9 million annually from the current $24 million fund. Because of the size of impact on the payments to the rural local exchange carriers, this would be phased in over several years. Fourth, from the $9 million savings in annual payments, $5 million will be set aside to fund the build out of broadband capable infrastructure as part of the SRUSF. This $5 million broadband fund will be available to both wireline and wireless providers on a project-by-project basis.”. The $5 million must be used for infrastructure, and companies will be required to fund 25 percent of each approved project. 50 percent of the SRUSF project money would be awarded upfront, and the remaining would be provided after progress reports are filed and reviewed by the Commission. Lastly, if a company can demonstrate need, they may come before the Commission for additional funding.
Two additional changes to the proposed NOPR were made by the Commission at the Open Meeting on July 23. First, the Commission approved an annual cap of a 3 percent surcharge on customers phone bills to fund the SRUSF. If expenditures exceed the 3 percent, then the amount of money from the fund will be prorated among recipients. SOLIX, a private company under contract with the Commission, manages the fund for New Mexico. Second, companies will be required to provide detailed information on how they have spent both federal and state universal service funds since the initial rule became effective in 2006. The official comment period and other due dates will be published in an order on Monday, with the goal to have the docket closed by October 15, 2014.