Title 30: Public Service
Chapter 88: UNIVERSAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS SERVICE
Sub-Chapter 02: Distribution
30 V.S.A. § 7515. High-cost basic telecommunications service
§ 7515. High-cost basic telecommunications service
(a) The General Assembly intends that the universal service charge be used in the future as a means of keeping basic telecommunications service affordable in all parts of this State, thereby maintaining universal service.
(b) The Commissioner of Public Service, in conjunction with the Public Service Board, shall conduct a study of the costs and other factors affecting the delivery of local exchange service by the incumbent local exchange carriers (the providers of last resort). The study shall include an informal workshop process to be conducted by the Board. Such process shall be noticed to the general public and structured to allow written and verbal comments by the general public, service providers, public officials, and others as determined by the Board. The study shall:
(1) After considering information on how various factors affect the costs of providing telecommunications service in Vermont and elsewhere, estimate the current costs and estimate, on a forward-looking basis, the differential costs of providing local exchange service to various customer groups throughout Vermont.
(2) Estimate the relationship between basic telecommunications service charges and universal service, and the threshold level beyond which universal residential service is likely to be harmed.
(3) Estimate the relationship between basic telecommunications service charges and opportunities for uniform economic development throughout the State, and the threshold prices beyond which such opportunities may be adversely affected.
(4) Estimate the potential effects of local exchange competition on uniform and affordable basic telecommunications service charges in all parts of the State.
(5) Examine policy options by which the cost to customers may be managed so as not to jeopardize universal service and the uniform economic development opportunities, including at least the following:
(A) establishing a maximum price for basic telecommunications service, beyond which customers would have access, without regard to income, to credits or vouchers negotiable for local exchange service from a local exchange provider or competitive access provider;
(B) broadening eligibility for the Lifeline program; and
(C) establishing a mechanism to adjust the level of support for higher cost customers over time to reflect legal rights, recover historic costs, and reflect the advantages of improved technology and increased efficiency.
(6) Examine the actions, if any, of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in revising its Universal Service Fund, and the need, if any, for additional action in Vermont. In particular, the study shall examine the impact on Vermont services caused by the FCC's report and order released November 18, 2011, which, among other things, expands the federal Universal Service Fund to include broadband deployment in unserved areas. Further, the study shall consider the potential impact of various legal challenges to the FCC action on the federal Universal Service Fund.
(7) Propose mechanisms to support universal service and rural economic development while securing the benefits of telecommunications competition for Vermont households and businesses.
(8) Include an audit of the Universal Service Fund to examine, among other things, the contributions made to the fund in terms of the categories of telecommunications service providers covered as well as the specific services charged. In addition, the audit shall assess the disbursements made from the Fund.
(9) Consider any other relevant issues that may arise during the course of the study.
(c) The results of the study, together with any plan for amending and distributing funds under this section, shall be submitted to the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development and the Senate Committee on Finance on or before December 1, 2012.
(d) The Commissioner of Public Service may contract with a consultant to conduct the study required by this section. Costs incurred in conducting the study shall be reimbursed from the State Universal Service Fund up to $75,000.00.
(e) To the extent this study may require disclosure of confidential information by a telecommunications service provider, such confidential information shall be disclosed to a third party pursuant to a protective agreement. In no event shall the third party be a person or persons employed by a business competitor or whose primary duties engage them in business competition with a telecommunications service provider submitting the confidential information. The third party may be the consultant retained by the Commissioner under subsection (d) of this section or may be another third party agreed upon by the Commissioner and the telecommunications service providers. The third party shall be responsible for aggregating the information and, once aggregated, may publicly disclose such information consistent with the purposes of this section. The confidentiality requirements of this subsection shall not affect whether information provided to an agency of the State or a political subdivision of the State pursuant to other laws is or is not subject to disclosure. (Added 1993, No. 197 (Adj. Sess.), § 5; amended 2011, No. 169 (Adj. Sess.), § 2, eff. May 18, 2012.)