Sub-Chapter 1: General Provisions
§ 7501. Purpose; definitions
(a) It is the purpose of this act to create a financial structure that will allow every Vermont household to obtain basic telecommunications service at an affordable price, and to finance that structure with a proportional charge on all telecommunications transactions that interact with the public switched network.
(b) As used in this chapter:
(1) "Basic telecommunications service" means that a customer has available at his or her location:
(A) switched voice grade interactive telecommunications service permitting origination and termination of calls;
(B) the ability to transmit network switching instructions through tones generated by customer-owned equipment;
(C) the ability to transmit and receive the customer's computer-generated digital data, either by digital or analog transmission, reliably and at common transmission rates, using customer-owned equipment;
(D) the ability to communicate quickly and effectively with emergency response personnel; and
(E) telecommunications relay service, as authorized under section 218a of this title.
(2) "Interactive" means that a communications medium is regularly used to transmit information in two directions.
(3) "Line in service" means a circuit or channel connecting a customer to the public switched network or to the Internet.
(4) "Private network" means a telecommunications system entirely owned and operated by a single corporate or individual person other than a telecommunications service provider and not available to the general public.
(5) "Public switched network" means the communications network owned and operated by telecommunications service providers, some of whom are common carriers.
(6) "Service area" means:
(A) in the case of a rural telephone company, the company's study area as approved by the Federal Communications Commission; or
(B) in the case of a local exchange carrier, other than a rural telephone company, the carrier's local exchange service area as approved by the Public Service Board.
(7) "Service location" means a business or residential geographic point of contact of a telecommunications service for purposes of the Enhanced-911 network. The number of service locations in each exchange shall be determined by the Department of Public Service in periodic updates to the State Telecommunications Plan based on analysis of the locations in the database of the Vermont Enhanced-911 Board.
(8) "Telecommunications service" means the transmission of any interactive electromagnetic communications that passes through the public switched network. The term includes transmission of voice, image, data, and any other information, by means of wire, electric conductor cable, optic fiber, microwave, radio wave, or any combinations of such media, and the leasing of any such service.
(A) Telecommunications service includes:
(i) local telephone service, including any facility or service provided in connection with such local telephone service;
(ii) toll telephone service;
(iii) directory assistance;
(iv) two-way cable television service; and
(v) mobile telephone or telecommunication service, both analog and digital.
(B) Notwithstanding the provisions of this subdivision (8), as used in this chapter, telecommunications service does not include:
(i) Services consisting primarily of the creation of artistic material or other information that is later transmitted over telecommunications equipment, including information services and electronic bulletin boards, but only to the extent that charges for such information processing are separated from charges for other telecommunications services, and only to the extent that such information is not used by any telecommunications service provider in the administration of the telecommunications network.
(ii) Mobile radio and paging services that do not have an electronic interface into the public switched network.
(iii) Private network services; provided, however, that payments by a private network to a telecommunications service provider, such as for point-to-point transmission services, are not exempt under this subdivision.
(v) Telecommunications services paid for at the point of purchase by depositing coins or currency.
(vi) Charges incurred by utilizing prepaid telephone calling cards or prepaid authorization numbers.
(9) "Telecommunications service provider" means a company required by law to hold a certificate of public good from the Public Service Board to offer telecommunications service for intrastate service, or is authorized by the Federal Communications Commission to offer interstate telecommunications service. (Added 1993, No. 197 (Adj. Sess.), § 5; amended 1995, No. 99 (Adj. Sess.), § 12; 1997, No. 71 (Adj. Sess.), § 29, eff. March 11, 1998; 1997, No. 156 (Adj. Sess.), § 31, eff. April 29, 1998; 2013, No. 190 (Adj. Sess.), § 2, eff. June 16, 2014.)
§ 7502. Rulemaking
(a) Consistent with the purposes of this chapter, the public service board and the department of public service may interpret the provisions of this chapter. Any person aggrieved by any such interpretation or policy may file with the public service board a petition for a declaratory ruling. Such a petition may include a request to determine whether newly created services, and other services not specifically mentioned by the definition of telecommunications service in this chapter, are telecommunications service. All services declared to be telecommunications service shall thereafter be subject to the charge imposed by subchapter 3 of this chapter.
(b) By rule or general order, the public service board may adopt procedures and standards to implement its responsibilities under this chapter. To the extent applicable, the public service board shall use the procedures and standards applicable to the setting of rates for regulated utilities. Those procedures may be designed to expedite the annual establishment of amounts to be collected and distributed by the fiscal agent. (Added 1993, No. 197 (Adj. Sess.), § 5.)
§ 7503. Fiscal agent
(a) A fiscal agent shall be selected to receive and distribute funds under this chapter.
(b) The fiscal agent shall be selected by the Public Service Board after competitive bidding. No telecommunications service provider shall be eligible to be the fiscal agent. The duties of the fiscal agent shall be determined by a contract with a term not greater than three years.
(c) In order to finance grants and other expenditures that have been approved by the Public Service Board, the fiscal agent may borrow money from time to time in anticipation of receipts during the current fiscal year. No such note shall have a term of repayment in excess of one year, but the fiscal agent may pledge its receipts in the current and future years to secure repayment. Financial obligations of the fiscal agent are not guaranteed by the State of Vermont.
(d) The fiscal agent shall be audited annually by a certified public accountant in a manner determined by and under the direction of the Public Service Board.
(e) The financial accounts of the fiscal agent shall be available at reasonable times to any telecommunications service provider in this State. The Public Service Board may investigate the accounts and practices of the fiscal agent and may enter orders concerning the same.
(f) The fiscal agent acts as a fiduciary and holds funds in trust for the ratepayers until the funds have been disbursed as provided pursuant to sections 7511 through 7515 of this chapter. (Added 1993, No. 197 (Adj. Sess.), § 5; amended 2005, No. 171 (Adj. Sess.), § 1; 2013, No. 191 (Adj. Sess.), § 33.)
§ 7504. Severability
In the event that a court determines that some part of this act, or its application to a particular circumstance, violates the Constitution or laws of the United States, the remainder of this chapter shall not thereby be declared invalid. (Added 1993, No. 197 (Adj. Sess.), § 5.)
Sub-Chapter 2: Distribution
§ 7511. Distribution generally
(a) As directed by the Public Service Board, funds collected by the fiscal agent, and interest accruing thereon, shall be distributed as follows:
(1) to pay costs payable to the fiscal agent under its contract with the Board;
(2) to support the Vermont telecommunications relay service in the manner provided by section 7512 of this title;
(3) to support the Vermont Lifeline program in the manner provided by section 7513 of this title;
(4) to support Enhanced-911 services in the manner provided by section 7514 of this title;
(5) to support the Connectivity Fund established in section 7516 of this chapter; and
(6) to support the cost of Executive Branch activities as specified under section 7515a of this title.
(b) If insufficient funds exist to support all of the purposes contained in subsection (a) of this section, the Board shall conduct an expedited proceeding to allocate the available funds, giving priority in the order listed in subsection (a). (Added 1993, No. 197 (Adj. Sess.), § 5; amended 2013, No. 190 (Adj. Sess.), § 3, eff. June 16, 2014; 2013, No. 191 (Adj. Sess.), § 34.)
§ 7512. Telecommunications relay service
The fiscal agent shall make distributions for the Vermont telecommunications relay service to the state treasurer. The amount of the transfer shall be determined by the commissioner of public service as the amount reasonably necessary to pay the costs of a contract administered by the department of public service. (Added 1993, No. 197 (Adj. Sess.), § 5.)
§ 7513. Lifeline
The fiscal agent shall make distributions for the Vermont lifeline program under subsection 218(c) of this title to reimburse telecommunications service providers for credits that have been granted to their customers, within annual limits approved in advance by the public service board. The fiscal agent shall also make distributions to reimburse telecommunications companies for lifeline program administration costs approved by the board. (Added 1993, No. 197 (Adj. Sess.), § 5; amended 1995, No. 99 (Adj. Sess.), § 13.)
§ 7514. Enhanced-911
The fiscal agent shall make distributions to the state treasurer, for deposit into the enhanced 911 special fund, as annually directed by the general assembly. (Added 1993, No. 197 (Adj. Sess.), § 5.)
§ 7515. High-Cost Program
(a) The Universal Service Charge shall be used as a means of keeping basic telecommunications service affordable in all parts of this State, thereby maintaining universal service, and as a means of supporting access to broadband service in all parts of the State.
(b) The Public Service Board, after review of a petition of a company holding a certificate of public good to provide telecommunications service in Vermont, and upon finding that the company meets all requirements for designation as an "eligible telecommunications carrier" as defined by the FCC, may designate the company as a Vermont-eligible telecommunications carrier (VETC).
(c) The supported services a designated VETC must provide are voice telephony services, as defined by the FCC, and broadband Internet access, directly or through an affiliate. A VETC receiving support under this section shall use that support for capital improvements in high cost areas to build broadband capable networks.
(d) The Board may designate multiple VETCs for a single high cost area, but each designated VETC shall:
(1) offer supported services to customers at all locations throughout the service area or areas for which it has been designated; and
(2) for its voice telephone services, meet service quality standards set by the Board.
(e) A VETC shall receive support as defined in subsection (i) of this section from the fiscal agent of the Vermont Universal Service Fund for each telecommunications line in service or service location, whichever is greater in number, in each high cost area it services. Such support may be made in the form of a net payment against the carrier's liability to the Fund. If multiple VETCs are designated for a single area, then each VETC shall receive support for each line it has in service.
(f) As used in this section, a Vermont telephone exchange is a "high cost area" if the exchange is served by a rural telephone company, as defined by federal law, or if the exchange is designated as a rural exchange in the wholesale tariff of a regional bell operating company (RBOC), as defined by the FCC, or of a successor company to an RBOC. An exchange is not a high cost area if the Public Service Board finds that the supported services are available to all locations throughout the exchange from at least two service providers.
(g) Except as provided in subsection (h) of this section, a VETC shall provide broadband Internet access at speeds meeting 4 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload in each high cost area it serves within five years of designation. A VETC need not provide broadband service to a location that has service available from another service provider, as determined by the Department of Public Service.
(h) The Public Service Board may modify the build out requirements of subsection (d) of this section as it relates to broadband Internet access to be the geographic area that could be reached using one-half of the funds to be received over five years. A VETC may seek such waiver of the build out requirements in subsection (c) within one year of designation and shall demonstrate the cost of meeting broadband Internet access requirements on an exchange basis and propose an alternative build out plan.
(i) The amount of the monthly support under this section shall be the pro rata share of available funds as provided in subsection (e) of this section.
(j) The Public Service Board shall adopt by rule standards and procedures for ensuring projects funded under this section are not competitive overbuilds of existing wired telecommunications services.
(k) Each VETC shall submit certification that it is meeting the requirements of this section and an accounting of how it expended the funds received under this section in the previous calendar year with its annual report to the Department of Public Service. For good cause shown, the Public Service Board may investigate submissions required by this subsection and may revoke a company's designation if it finds that the company is not meeting the requirements of this subsection. (Added 1993, No. 197 (Adj. Sess.), § 5; amended 2011, No. 169 (Adj. Sess.), § 2, eff. May 18, 2012; 2013, No. 190 (Adj. Sess.), § 5, eff. June 16, 2014.)
§ 7515a. Additional program support
The fiscal agent may make distributions to the State Treasurer to fund Executive Branch activities related to and supportive of the programs funded under this chapter, as determined by the General Assembly. (Added 2013, No. 191 (Adj. Sess.), § 35.)
§ 7515b. Connectivity Initiative
(a) The purpose of the Connectivity Initiative is to provide each service location in Vermont access to Internet service that is capable of speeds of at least 4 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload, beginning with locations not served as of December 31, 2013 according to the minimum technical service characteristic objectives applicable at that time. Within this category of service locations, priority shall be given first to unserved and then to underserved locations. As used in this section, "unserved" means a location having access to only satellite or dial-up Internet service and "underserved" means a location having access to Internet service with speeds that exceed satellite and dial-up speeds but are less than 4 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. Any new services funded in whole or in part by monies in this Fund shall be capable of being continuously upgraded to reflect the best available, most economically feasible service capabilities.
(b) The Department of Public Service shall publish annually a list of census blocks eligible for funding based on the Department's most recent broadband mapping data. The Department annually shall solicit proposals from service providers, the Vermont Telecommunications Authority, and the Division for Connectivity to deploy broadband to eligible census blocks. The Department shall give priority to proposals that reflect the lowest cost of providing services to unserved and underserved locations; however, the Department also shall consider:
(1) the proposed data transfer rates and other data transmission characteristics of services that would be available to consumers;
(2) the price to consumers of services;
(3) the proposed cost to consumers of any new construction, equipment installation service, or facility required to obtain service;
(4) whether the proposal would use the best available technology that is economically feasible;
(5) the availability of service of comparable quality and speed; and
(6) the objectives of the State's Telecommunications Plan. (Added 2013, No. 190 (Adj. Sess.), § 6, eff. June 16, 2014.)
§ 7516. Connectivity Fund
There is created a Connectivity Fund for the purpose of providing support to the High-Cost Program established under section 7515 of this chapter and the Connectivity Initiative established under section 7515b of this chapter. The fiscal agent shall determine annually, on or before September 1, the amount of monies available to the Connectivity Fund. Such funds shall be apportioned equally to the High-Cost Program and the Connectivity Initiative referenced in this section. (Added 2013, No. 190 (Adj. Sess.), § 4, eff. June 16, 2014.)
Sub-Chapter 3: Collection
§ 7521. Charge imposed; wholesale exemption
(a) A Universal Service Charge is imposed on all retail telecommunications service provided to a Vermont address. Where the location of a service and the location receiving the bill differ, the location of the service shall be used to determine whether the charge applies. The charge is imposed on the person purchasing the service, but shall be collected by the telecommunications provider. Each telecommunications service provider shall include in its tariffs filed at the Public Service Board a description of its billing procedures for the universal service fund charge.
(b) The Universal Service Charge shall not apply to wholesale transactions between telecommunications service providers where the service is a component part of a service provided to an end user. This exemption includes network access charges and interconnection charges paid to a local exchange carrier.
(c) In the case of mobile telecommunications service, the Universal Service Charge is imposed when the customer's place of primary use is in Vermont. The terms "customer," "place of primary use," and "mobile telecommunications service" have the meanings given in 4 U.S.C. § 124. All provisions of 32 V.S.A. § 9782 shall apply to the imposition of the universal service charge under this section.
(d)(1) Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, beginning on September 1, 2014, in the case of prepaid wireless telecommunications service, the Universal Service Charge shall be imposed as follows:
(A) If the provider sells directly to a consumer in a retail transaction, the provider may collect the charge from the customer at the rate specified in section 7523 of this title; or
(B) if the provider does not sell directly to the consumer, or if the provider sells directly to the customer in a retail transaction but elects not to collect the Charge from the customer, the Charge shall be imposed on the provider at the rate determined in subdivision (2) of this subsection (d).
(2) The Public Service Board shall establish a formula to ensure the Universal Service Charge rate imposed on prepaid wireless telecommunications service providers under subdivision (1)(B) of this subsection reflects two percent of retail prepaid wireless telecommunications service in Vermont.
(3) As used in this subsection, "prepaid wireless telecommunications service" means a telecommunications service as defined in subdivision 203(5) of this title that a consumer pays for in advance and that is sold in predetermined units or dollars that decline with use. (Added 1993, No. 197 (Adj. Sess.), § 5, eff. Oct. 1, 1994; amended 2001, No. 144 (Adj. Sess.), § 36; 2013, No. 191 (Adj. Sess.), § 29.)
§ 7522. Rebate for payment elsewhere
When a telecommunications service is subject to the charge imposed by section 7521 of this title and also to a similar charge imposed for similar purposes in another state, the customer shall be liable only for the difference between the amount demonstrably paid in the other state and the amount due in this state. (Added 1993, No. 197 (Adj. Sess.), § 5.)
§ 7523. Rate of charge
(a) Beginning on July 1, 2014, the rate of charge shall be two percent of retail telecommunications service.
(b) Universal Service Charges imposed and collected by the fiscal agent under this subchapter shall not be transferred to any other fund or used to support the cost of any activity other than in the manner authorized by section 7511 of this title. (Added 1993, No. 197 (Adj. Sess.), § 5; amended 1995, No. 182 (Adj. Sess.), § 7, eff. May 22, 1996; 2005, No. 171 (Adj. Sess.), § 2; 2013, No. 190 (Adj. Sess.), § 7, eff. June 16, 2014.)
§ 7524. Payment to fiscal agent
(a) Telecommunications service providers shall pay to the fiscal agent all universal service charge receipts collected from customers. A report in a form approved by the Public Service Board shall be included with each payment.
(b) Payments shall be made monthly, by the 15th day of the month, and shall be based upon amounts collected in the preceding month. If the amount is small, the Board may allow payment to be made less frequently, and may permit payment on an accrual basis.
(c) Telecommunications service providers shall maintain records adequate to demonstrate compliance with the requirements of this chapter. The Board or the fiscal agent may examine those records in a reasonable manner.
(d) When a payment is due under this section by a telecommunications service provider who has provided customer credits under the Lifeline program, the amount due may be reduced by the amount of credit granted.
(e) The fiscal agent shall examine the records of telecommunications service providers to determine whether their receipts reflect application of the Universal Service Charge on all assessable telecommunications services under this chapter, including the federal subscriber line charge, directory assistance, enhanced services unless they are billed as separate line items, and toll-related services.
(f) The Public Service Board shall ensure the fiscal agent is authorized to negotiate and collect from telecommunications service providers any Universal Service Charges not properly assessed or remitted pursuant to this chapter. For the purpose of this subsection, the fiscal agent may examine the records of telecommunications providers for the immediately preceding three years and assess the provider for underpayments, if any, as appropriate. (Added 1993, No. 197 (Adj. Sess.), § 5; amended 1995, No. 99 (Adj. Sess.), § 14; 1995, No. 182 (Adj. Sess.), § 8, eff. May 22, 1996; 2013, No. 191 (Adj. Sess.), § 30.)
§ 7525. Delinquent payments
(a) If a report required by this chapter is not filed, or if a report when filed is incorrect or insufficient, or if a provider fails to bill and collect amounts required by this chapter, the fiscal agent shall determine a delinquency from information available and shall so inform the provider.
(b) Interest shall be charged on delinquent payments to the fiscal agent at the rate of 1.5 percent per month or part thereof.
(c) The public service board may hear appeals from any determinations of delinquency made by the fiscal agent. Any such determination shall become final if not so appealed within 60 days of its issuance.
(d) Upon petition of the fiscal agent, the public service board may impose, after notice and an opportunity for hearing, civil penalties against a telecommunications service provider who is delinquent in making payments to the fiscal agent. Any penalty imposed may be based upon the size and duration of the violation, but no such penalty shall exceed twice the amount of the delinquency or $1,000.00, whichever is larger.
(e) A telecommunications service provider who has filed reports required by this chapter shall not be liable for delinquent payments that were due more than three years before the fiscal agent gave notice of delinquency to the provider.
(f) Payments, interest, and penalties due under this chapter may be collected by civil actions in the courts of this state initiated in the name of the state or fiscal agent. (Added 1993, No. 197 (Adj. Sess.), § 5; amended 1995, No. 99 (Adj. Sess.), § 15; 2005, No. 171 (Adj. Sess.), § 3.)