State agrees to increase funding for satellite phone services used by rural Texans

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Public Utility Commission voted to raise the Texas Universal Service Fund surtax from 3.3% to 24% this week. This will allow service providers to continue to serve rural Texans who do not have access to regular cell phone service.

The vote comes after a satellite phone service provider serving nearly 3,200 Texans sent a letter to its customers warning them that it would no longer be able to offer its services due to a lack of resources. financials of this fund.

It also comes after the third appeals court ruled in favor of the suppliers.

Dialtone Services, which spans 45 Texas counties, provides a lifeline to rural Texans, many of whom don’t have access to cell service. One such client is Harold Vestal, a West Texas landowner.

“I have to drive, just to get a cellphone signal where I can actually talk on my cellphone, it’s about two and a half hours,” Vestal explained.

Just a few years ago, he depended on it to call the county sheriff when his two grandchildren went missing on his property.

“When you’re lost in the desert, it’s not days to survive, it can take hours,” Vestal said. The sheriff’s office was able to locate the children, 28 miles from his cabin.

The Texas Universal Service Fund was established in 1987 to ensure that all Texans have access to affordable basic telecommunications services.

“We realized that the big phone companies didn’t have the resources and the smaller communities didn’t have the resources to be able to afford those expensive connections to run a 10-mile line. And sometimes it’s the only person on that line, it doesn’t make a lot of business sense,” explained Mark Seale of the Texas Telephone Association.

The fund complements telephone companies in rural areas to ensure that rural customers pay the same amount for commensurate services as urban customers.

“The federal government caps the amount a rural customer can pay at about $30. So if you have parts of the state, which we do that cost $600 per line per month just to operate, you have to make up that difference. So the state decided it was important to make up the difference. And they created a system where every telephone customer in the state who makes a long distance call in the state contributes a little money to the Universal Service Fund,” Seale said.

The phone companies hoped the state would increase the current 3.3% rate in 2018. But it didn’t. Now, the company said the increased funding will help “rural Texans who rely on satellite phone service for lifesaving emergency services.”

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