Idaho Public Utilities Commission
Case No. CTL-T-09-01, Order No. 30867
August 6, 2009
Contact: Gene Fadness (208) 334-0339, 890-2712
Wireless company qualifies for high-cost support in rural Idaho
State regulators have granted a request by Cambridge-based CTC Telecom, Inc., to be declared eligible to receive federal funds to expand its wireless network to serve Adams, Boise, Gem and northern Washington counties.
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission ruled that CTC Telecom, which will operate as Snake River PCS, qualifies as an “eligible telecommunications carrier” (ETC). The designation means the wireless carrier can receive about $171,300 each year from the federal Universal Service Fund (USF).
The USF was created by Congress to ensure that telephone consumers in rural areas – where it costs more to build a telephone network – can have access to the same telecommunications services as consumers in urban areas at roughly the same cost. All telephone companies providing interstate service contribute to the USF. The companies pass that cost on to their consumers who currently pay about 12.9 percent of their bill each month to support the Universal Service Fund. That charge is adjusted yearly.
The commission granted ETC status for CTC Telecom in the communities of New Meadows, Council, Indian Valley, Cambridge, Garden Valley, Horseshoe Bend, Idaho City and Lowman.
ETC status for CTC Telecom is in the public interest, the commission said, because the carrier can provide a competitive choice for telephone consumers. CTC Telecom certified to the commission that it has or will soon have the ability to provide local calling, access to emergency services, operator services, directory assistance and long-distance calling.
The commission denied CTC’s request to serve in the Midvale Telephone Exchange because CTC did not demonstrate to the commission that it would serve the entire exchange. Carriers seeking ETC status must provide service throughout their requested service area, not just in places where there is a higher concentration of customers. Carriers are denied ETC status if they engage in “cream skimming,” or serving only those customers within an exchange’s lower cost areas and not building the network out to also take in customers in more remote, high-cost areas.
CTC denied it was targeting low-cost areas in the Midvale exchange. However, CTC’s decision to disaggregate the Midvale service area requires the commission to adhere to its previous rulings granting ETC status only in those areas where an entire service area is included in the carrier’s expansion plans.
By granting ETC status, Snake River PCS customers who meet state Health and Welfare Department guidelines will also become eligible to participate in the Idaho Telecommunications Service Assistance Program. Sometimes referred to as “Lifeline,” the program helps to ensure low-income Idahoans, including senior citizens, have access to local dial-tone service for medical and other emergencies. Lifeline is funded by federal funds in addition to a monthly charge of 6 cents per line for each Idaho residential, business and wireless customer. The revenue from that charge and the federal funds allow Lifeline to discount the monthly bills of qualifying participants by $13.50 per month.
A copy of the commission’s final order, and other documents related to this case, are on the commission Web site at www.puc.idaho.gov. Click on the telephone icon, then scroll down to “Links” and click on “Open Telephone Cases.” Scroll down to Case No. CTL-T-09-01.