LUBBOCK, Texas — In the next couple of months, more than a million Texans could have to pay more for their telephone and internet service. Some could lose service altogether.
Over the last couple of years, the Texas Universal Service Fund (TUSF) that reimburses smaller telecommunication companies that serve rural areas in the state has been bleeding money.
Daniel Gibson, an attorney representing Texas Statewide Telephone Cooperative Inc., said the issue has been building for months.
“There’s this big misconception that, you know, cellphones solved all of this, and you don’t need all of this infrastructure anymore. couldn’t be further from the truth,” Gibbons said.
Gibson said the majority of the telecommunications infrastructure in the state is composed of smaller companies that serve rural areas. The TUSF provides revenue to these companies to help keep the cost of their service low, while also providing broadband to those who live outside of urban areas.
Gibson said many of the companies in West Texas have spent the last 10 months operating on fumes. Many telecommunication companies report receiving 30 to 40 percent of what they’re supposed to get every month from the state by law.
Gibson said this puts more pressure on these companies that we all rely on.
“Without the rural infrastructure that traverses the whole state, then none of Texas has communications. So that’s why it was so important that the legislature put in place this policy of universal service,” Gibson said. “It helps with the expansion, the maintenance, the construction, and just the ongoing operations of all these providers that allow for communications across the state.”
Texas State Senator Charles Perry has been an active advocate to pass legislation that supports the state’s telecommunication infrastructure. Perry said many of his colleagues are shortsighted on the bigger issue if these systems fail.
“The majority of my members don’t understand that, if I call you.. that may bounce off 50 towers, two of them being in rural communities, before it comes back,” Perry said. “If that’s no longer there, we can’t communicate. And if you lose a piece of that along the way, then you don’t have power.”
In the last legislative session, Governor Abbott struck down a bill that would update TUSF and ideally insure funds were allocated to these companies that are struggling to make ends meet. Gibson confirmed that these companies have not given up yet. An appeal has been filed to a court in Austin, and is waits for a judge to review the case and make a decision.