Friday, June 24, 2011
Media Literacy Project Opposes AT&T and T-Mobile Merger
The Media Literacy Project (MLP) has released a statement publicly communicating its opposition to the AT&T and T-Mobile merger. If the FCC and Department of Justice approve this merger, it would eliminate jobs, increase prices and threaten consumer choice, according the the MLP.
The Media Literacy Project joins a national debate on the detrimental impacts of the merger on jobs, innovation and consumer choice. The news has already generated a wave of public comments, with the Federal Communications Commission opposing the merger. As public comment on the merger closed on Wednesday, the Media Literacy Project released its statement against the merger.
Andrea Quijada, the Executive Director of Media Literacy Project, issued the following comments:
“If the FCC and Department of Justice approve the merger, AT&T and Verizon will control 80 percent of the market. New Mexicans will be in a dire communications circumstance where they have no real choice in their cell phone providers and little recourse to hold their providers accountable for anti-consumer behavior. We know that many New Mexicans depend on their mobile devices to apply for jobs, access health information and stay connected to their families. But because the wireless market is unregulated, many New Mexicans will be vulnerable to slowed or blocked content and unexpected fees.”
“We know from AT&T’s past that they have no hesitation in cutting jobs to pad their bottom line. Currently, T-Mobile employs 1,700 New Mexicans at its two Albuquerque call centers. Already New Mexico faces a 19 percent poverty level and cutting more jobs will leave many more families scrambling to make ends meet. New Mexico is already buckling under the economic crisis and we can’t afford another blow to jobs.”
“Poverty rates are statistically higher in rural communities than in urban communities. This puts New Mexican families at a disadvantage when prices for data and voice plans from national carriers typically remain the same whether the consumer lives in a metropolitan or rural area. If prices increase, it will definitely be difficult for many families nationwide to be able to afford their voice and data plans. But it will be especially difficult on many New Mexican families. We can’t let AT&T and T-Mobile increase prices that will leave New Mexico hit the hardest.”
“It’s clear that AT&T already doesn’t invest enough in its rural broadband network. The call quality and reliability of its network is low. Instead of purchasing T-Mobile’s licenses for $39 billion, AT&T should divert these funds toward updating and improving its existing rural area network infrastructure. They don’t need to buy T-Mobile to better serve rural New Mexico.”
Media Literacy Project is a non-profit organization that advances education and advocacy for media justice.
Note: For additional perspectives on the proposed merger, see our previous posts relating the views of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission's Jason Marks (which has accumulated a significant number of new comments on the thread), as well as a guest blog on the subject by Glenda Winternheimer of the Communication Workers of America.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Guest Blog: CWA to PRC Jason Marks--Support AT&T/T-Mobile Merger
This is a guest blog by Glenda Winternheimer, Vice President of Communication Workers of America (CWA) Local 7011. It's written in response to the position taken by Public Regulation Commissioner Jason Marks on the issue of the AT&T/T-Mobile merger.
Commissioner Jason Marks is off base regarding his comments concerning the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger. Anytime there is a merger or acquisition of two companies, there is a fear that prices will increase and consumers will suffer. Research of the wireless industry as it pertains to M&A activity over the last decade show that when wireless companies combine, such as Sprint and Nextel, Cingular and AT&T Wireless, and Verizon and Alltel, the sky did not fall. Wireless prices actually declined fifty percent during that period of time. T-Mobile wants to get out of the US Market and if the sale does not go through to AT&T then the next bidder is Sprint.
While Commissioner Marks claims that rural states such as ours may be negatively impacted by this merger, the fact is that AT&T has committed to expand 4G LTE wireless broadband coverage to over 97% of the U.S. population. That means that rural New Mexico residents will now have access to high-speed internet. Access to broadband is becoming a necessity in this day and age, especially in rural areas.
Communications Workers of America-New Mexico agrees, pointing out that AT&T has also committed to investing an additional $8 billion in their network, and, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, this will create as many as 96,000 NEW, quality jobs. To address the obvious question, YES, the labor movement has a horse in this race. Should the merger go through, tens of thousands of T-mobile employees could be able to negotiate for a union contract and advocate collectively for their wages and working conditions.
Adding up the results of the merger: more residents in metro and rural areas with access to 4G wireless coverage, additional investment in our state, additional jobs, and additional wireless high-speed internet access. Sounds like something our PRC should get behind, including Commissioner Marks.
This is a guest blog by Glenda Winternheimer. If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page.
Saturday, June 11, 2011
PRC Commissioner Jason Marks Urges FCC to Stop Proposed Merger of AT&T and T-Mobile
Bravo: On June 8, 2011, Public Regulation Commissioner Jason Marks electronically filed this letter with the FCC urging it to refused to allow the proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile "as it will have a detrimental impact on national and local markets for wireless services and is therefore not in the public interest." As Commissioner Marks explains in this excerpt:
Consolidation in the wireless industry from the "wild west" era of the 1990s was both inevitable and necessary to create national footprints and the platforms needed to roll-out the latest innovations. But now we have come to a bridge too far. After the Verizon-Alltel merger, there are four national wireless carriers remaining. If you approve the merger between AT&T and T-mobile that will leave only three - the magical, dysfunctional number of players in the cable/satellite TV arena in most markets.
Moreover, there's a strong possibility that the market will not remain at three national carriers after this merger due to the relative sizes and other characteristics of the surving companies. In approving this merger, the FCC may very likely be blessing a terminal state of duopoly.
The potential detrimental effects of the merger may be exacerbated in largely rural states like New Mexico.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Terry Brunner: Winning the Future in Rural New Mexico
This is a guest blog by Terry Brunner, who has served as State Director for USDA Rural Development in New Mexico since September 2009, when he was appointed to the post by President Barack Obama.
Many of the rich resources that we are known for in New Mexico come from our rural areas. We are known for our natural beauty, our specialty crops like chile and pecans and our cultural heritage that is firmly grounded in our farm and ranching roots.
But new census numbers show us that our rural population is changing. During the past 10 years, the 13 New Mexico counties with declining population were rural. Shifting migration patterns resulted in New Mexicans moving from rural areas to our urban centers or other states.
While rural communities and areas are home to 1.26 million New Mexicans, more than a third of New Mexico’s 102 municipalities have fewer than 1000 residents. Each of these rural communities is vital to the prosperity, character and culture of the Land of Enchantment.
To keep rural New Mexico vibrant and prosperous, three priorities should be emphasized: infrastructure, education and innovation.
Community and economic development is difficult in communities with a deteriorating or non-existent infrastructure. Water services, wastewater treatment, bridges, roads, sewers, electricity and telecommunications need to be in place for a community to prosper. There is an incredible, constant demand to maintain and build infrastructure in rural New Mexico. In the past, many of these projects have been funded through Congressional appropriations and State-funded Capital Outlay. However, dramatic decreases in those funding streams over the past two years have stymied the development and maintenance of critical rural infrastructure.
The United Stated Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development agency is committed to investing in rural New Mexico. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act alone, USDA Rural Development invested $91 million in fiscal year 2010 for broadband infrastructure throughout the state. In the past two fiscal years, we provided $150 million in financing for new hospitals, 48 rural water and wastewater projects, child care facilities, libraries and emergency equipment. Together, these projects help advance our rural communities.
We must continue to invest in future generations by creating unique learning opportunities that will ensure young New Mexicans have the necessary skills to compete in the work place. USDA Rural Development agency funding for distance learning programs around the state of New Mexico ensures that those who live far from formal educational facilities may access coursework or training through remote sites or the internet. These tools can also be leveraged to provide the workforce education and training necessary to start a successful business, a second job or a new career.
USDA Rural Development further encourages innovation by promoting the technologies and business support systems that will diversify our economy and complement our strong agricultural, small business, energy and natural resource economic drivers. We fund state-of-the-art energy projects like the Sapphire energy algae-based biodiesel plant in Columbus, New Mexico. We invest in projects to increase energy efficiency in small businesses and finance technological improvements to farm practices.
In Southern New Mexico, USDA Rural Development invested in a program led by the Community Action Agency of Southern New Mexico. They conduct door-to-door outreach in small communities like Hatch, NM to assist small businesses in improving their marketing, accounting and basic businesses practices.
By building infrastructure, enhancing education and fostering innovative practices; we brighten the future for our rural communities and, in turn, our state as a whole. A concerted effort on this front sustains and enhances the unique rural qualities that contribute to winning the future for all of New Mexico.
This is a guest blog by Terry Brunner. If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page.
Monday, March 14, 2011
Stealth Deregulation Bill Heading to Final Passage, NM Small Biz Could See Phone Rate Hikes
Senate Bill 122, as amended, allows all local exchange carrier telephone companies to withdraw tariffs for business telephone services that are currently filed with the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) and from that point forward, change prices at their discretion. If passed, the state’s two largest phone companies, Qwest and Windstream, would effectively be price deregulated for the services they sell to small and medium businesses, according to a statement released today by PRC Commission Jason Marks.
It is likely that prices would increase for some services. Phone companies like Qwest could even charge different prices to businesses in different parts of the state.
SB 122, sponsored by Sen. John Ryan (R-Albuquerque) passed the Senate by a vote of 23–17 on February 24, 2011. Late Sunday night, it passed the House Business and Industry Committee (HBIC). It is scheduled for one more House committee -- the House Taxation and Revenue Committee (HTRC) -- and then to the House floor.
Tariffs are the filed rates for telephone and utility services that regulated companies submit to commissions like the PRC for approval before they are allowed to go into effect. Approved tariffs are effectively government-approved prices, terms, and conditions (approved tariffs have the force and effect of law). By eliminating the requirement that tariffs for business phone services be filed with the PRC; i.e., allowing the tariffs to be “withdrawn,” prices, terms and conditions will be removed from PRC review and approval.
As, Commissioner Marks' release explains, SB 122 also eliminates current requirements for companies like Qwest to file special customer contracts with the PRC. Competitors will no longer be able to discover if Qwest and Windstream, which continue to be the dominant carriers in their markets, are engaging in predatory pricing practices through non-public contracts. Because of this prospect, TW Telecom, a competitive local exchange carrier, opposes SB 122.
As originally introduced, SB 122 was limited to “competitive local exchange carriers” (CLECs), companies like Verizon, TW Telecom and eSpire that have entered the market in the past two decades and don’t have substantial market power. CLECs are already much less regulated than “incumbent local exchange carriers” like Qwest and Windstream, and tariffs filed by CLECs have rarely been challenged at the PRC. In its original form, SB 122 eliminated some red-tape for companies without posing much risk to consumers. But an amendment to the bill in the Senate dropped a single word making SB 122 into a “stealth Qwest deregulation” bill.
Bill Would Diminish Consumer Protections
PRC Commissioner Jason Marks says that he supported the bill in its original form, but that he is very worried that the complete and immediate deregulation of rates for business telephone rates has not been well thought out, nor clearly disclosed by the bill’s proponents. “For proponents of SB 122 to imply that replacing filed tariffs for Qwest and Windstream with prices posted to a company website won’t significantly diminish PRC jurisdiction and consumer protections is very misleading.”
Attorney General Recommends Against Passage
New Mexico Attorney General Gary King gave this comment: "SB 122, as amended, deals with complicated and detailed technical issues, and as amended would essentially deregulate telecommunications in New Mexico. Existing law allows companies to seek this relief at the PRC and I ask the Legislature not to by-pass that body's responsibility. SB 122, as amended, should not become law."
Sunday, February 13, 2011
PRC's Jason Marks on Qwest Deregulation: State Senators Put Corporate Interests Ahead of Public Interest
This is a guest blog by New Mexico PRC Commissioner Jason Marks.
Legislation enabling deregulation of Qwest telephone services in New Mexico (SB 4) is set to pass the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) on Monday, having been temporarily halted last week on a tie vote. Voting to support the legislation desired by Qwest were Democrats Linda Lopez and Richard Martinez, joined by the three Republicans present (Payne, Rue, Ryan). Standing up for consumers with a “no” vote were Democratic Senators Eichenberg, Wirth, McSorley, Michael Sanchez, and Eric Griego. But unless Lopez or Martinez change their votes, Qwest looks to get its way when Republican Clint Harden returns Monday and breaks the tie.
Both supporters and opponents of SB 4 predict that if it becomes law, Qwest will gain the power to raise rates without PRC review for almost all of its services and will be released from most PRC oversight of its infrastructure investments and quality of service.
Some background: The telecommunications landscape has rapidly evolved over the past two decades and old regulatory models should be updated. In Albuquerque especially, but also in other areas of the state, many business and residential telephone consumers have choices other than Qwest for their telephone service. Senate Bill 4 directs the PRC to consider cell phone offerings, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, cable company phone plans, and other relevant factors in determining whether a particular phone service in a particular geographic market has enough competition to justify deregulation. But then SB 4 goes too far -- it says that if Qwest proves competition in 50% of its territory (for example, Albuquerque and Las Cruces), the PRC must deregulate its services statewide. The PRC would be forced to stop regulating Qwest even in communities that were proven not to have adequate competitive alternatives.
Qwest says that if it’s deregulated, it will continue to charge the same prices across the state. Thus, in theory, their need to stay competitive in the Albuquerque market should prevent extreme price gouging. However, I believe that deregulation could result in significant price increases for currently low-cost basic residential services used by many senior citizens and others with fixed incomes. Moreover, while SB 4 puts statewide pricing for residential services into law, there is no similar protection for business phone lines. The only thing preventing Qwest from abusing its remaining monopoly market power in rural areas to raise rates to small businesses is their corporate management’s assertion that this is not what they intend.
Another area where things would go from regulation by the PRC in the public interest to trusting Qwest to do the right thing, is quality of service and infrastructure investment. Without the PRC’s quality of service regulation, Qwest customers would not have any regulatory remedy if the company made them wait weeks for new service connections or they suffered frequent outages because of a poorly maintained network, or were forced to wait lengthy periods to have services restored because Qwest further reduced its ranks of technicians. These are all real quality of service issues with Qwest under the existing level of regulation. SB 4 poses a big risk is to customers in rural areas. Service and investment deficits could also affect parts of Albuquerque that are less affluent or harder to serve due to network geography.
By the way, although I am focusing on Qwest, “sponsor” of the bill, SB 4 also paves the way to complete deregulation of Windstream, which provides phone service in some mid-sized New Mexico communities.
Consumers know the risk of removing PRC regulatory oversight from Qwest and Windstream, but unfortunately, too many of our state senators seem ready to hand over the keys to out-of-state corporate management that has shown in the past it will short-change New Mexico when left to its own choices. (In a 2006 case, the PRC had to order Qwest to make up a $220 million investment shortfall, and we also ordered over $30 million in customer credits for service quality deficiencies during my first term on the PRC.)
In Senate Judiciary, Qwest supporters even rejected an amendment drafted by Tim Eichenberg with my assistance that would have allowed for the pricing freedom Qwest says it needs to respond to competition, while retaining critical consumer protections over quality in non-competitive markets and PRC oversight of basic residential service rates.
Earlier in the legislative session, SB 4 passed the Senate Corporations Committee (SCORC) with only Sen. Lynda Lovejoy having the courage to oppose this powerful corporation. Democrats voting for Qwest deregulation in Corps were Phil Griego, Munoz, Sapien, and Ulibarri.
Take Action: New Mexicans who believe that our legislature should not compromise the public interest in order to increase the profits of a powerful corporation can help by emailing and calling their state senators -- especially key senators on Judiciary -- and asking them to oppose SB 4, Qwest Deregulation.
This is a guest blog by Jason Marks. To submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page.
Monday, February 01, 2010
Guest Blog by PRC Commissioner Jason Marks: Anti-Consumer Qwest Legislation is Back!
In the 2009, two bills sponsored by Qwest were narrowly defeated by pro-consumer legislators. Unfortunately, they're back. As discussed below, SB 37 is a fast-track to complete deregulation of Qwest prices, service quality, and in-state investments. HB 107 is a cleverly disguised, unjustified rate increase for Qwest, Windstream, and the rural monopoly telephone companies.
At a time when our Legislature faces tremendous challenges with the budget shortfall, and when far too many New Mexico citizens and business are suffering from unemployment and recession, it might be hard to believe that our legislators would have the nerve to do special favors for a large, out-of-state telecom corporation -- and to make you pay for it. But that's the way it works in Santa Fe, where bills like this are shepherded through committees by well-paid and well-connected lobbyists, and kept out of the public's view. Both bills were supported by interim committees, and SB 37 has already passed it's first committee in the Senate.
Let your state senator and representive know you are watching and that you oppose Qwest's anti-consumer bills.
SB 37 – Removing certain telecommunications rates from the PRC’s jurisdiction - aka Qwest DEREGULATION (Sponsor: Carlos Cisneros)
This year’s version of Qwest’s deregulation bill will automatically result in complete deregulation of Qwest throughout New Mexico if the company demonstrates sufficient competition in just 50% of the state. Not only would the PRC lose the ability to regulate Qwest’s prices, the Commission would no longer be able to set or enforce ANY service quality or customer service standards or require any Qwest investments in New Mexico infrastructure. Even if Qwest couldn't prove effective competion in 50% of its "wire centers," it would still qualify for complete deregulation if it lost 33% of its lines.
The biggest risk here is to rural areas, which are likely to stay Qwest monopolies, regardless of how competitive markets get in Albuquerque and other metro areas like Las Cruces. If SB 37 becomes law, there is nothing to stop the company from drastically reducing its commitment to service quality and investment in the non-competitive areas. Service and investment deficits could also affect many parts of Albuquerque that are less affluent or harder to serve due to network topography. The company’s past conduct unfortunately shows that it has short-changed New Mexico on service quality and investment when left to its own choices. (I am referring to the $220 million investment shortfall under the first AFOR plan, and over $30 million in customer credits the PRC ordered for service quality deficiencies during my first term on the PRC.)
Statewide pricing and competitive forces in Albuquerque should prevent extreme price gouging; however, my expectation is that deregulation will result in significant price increases for some services, such as basic residential service, and some small business services. Parts of SB 37 updating the criteria the Commission uses in determining the extent of competition to explicitly include an analysis of cell phones and other technologies are reasonable changes to law, but even here, Qwest has also proposed a line-loss based trigger for deregulation that is unwarranted and could lead to significant harm to consumers.
Absent this bill, the PRC will continue to manage the evolution of the regulatory burdens on Qwest in a manner proportionate to the actual competitive status of each geographic and service-based market. The PRC understands that Qwest faces growing competition and has already granted it significant flexibility to reduce prices.
HB 107 – Recovery of Relocation Costs From Telephone Customers (Sponsor: Bobby Gonzales)
This bill allows Qwest and other regulated telephone companies to impose a surcharge on customers’ bills to recover costs of relocating lines and other infrastructure due to road construction projects. While this sounds somewhat reasonable on the surface, in fact this bill is nothing more than an unjustified rate increase for Qwest, Windstream, and other monopoly telephone companies.
Basically, these costs are already reflected in Qwest’s current rates, as was acknowledged by a Qwest witness in in cross-examination under oath during a recent PRC hearing (Case 09-00094, Transcript of July, 8, 2009 Public Hearing at p. 109.) Moreover, in 2000, Qwest and Windstream, chose to stop having their rates set based on their costs. Instead, we have “alternative forms of regulation” (AFOR) plans. Since 2000, Qwest has dramatically reduced many of its costs; for example, it has unfortunately laid off a huge part of its New Mexico workforce. Because we now have price regulation, not cost regulation, Qwest has not shared any of these cost reductions with customers -- in fact, rates are going up. Now, they want to get a special surcharge so customers will (double) pay this one category of costs, without the PRC considering how their overall costs have changed.
The rate riders permitted by this bill are nothing more than an unjustified rate increase for Qwest, Windstream, and the smaller phone companies. For Windstream and the smaller companies, especially, the rate impacts could be significant even with the proposed annual cap. Although the PRC would be able to modify how the surcharge was imposed (for example, over how many months the costs were spread), if HB 107 is passed, the PRC will not be able to say no or reduce the amount of the telephone company’s request below the company’s actual cost. The PRC rejected the concept of a separate relocation cost recover rider for Qwest in its recent AFOR case based on the applicable facts and the law. Now Qwest is trying to go around the Commission and get the Legislature to give a rate increase they don't deserve.
Attorney General Gary King joins me in opposing these two pieces of Qwest legislation, as does AARP.
This is a guest blog by PRC Commisioner Jason Marks of Albuquerque. If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link on the upper left-hand corner of the page.
Friday, January 01, 2010
USDA Stimulus Money Almost Triples Funding For Rural New Mexico Projects in FY- 2009
State Director Terry Brunner programs a computer that gave commands to initiate the treatment of wastewater at the new sewer plant in Acoma Pueblo. Rural Development’s community loan and grant program provided $6.4 million to build the project.
USDA Rural Development State Director Terry Brunner announced yesterday that USDA Rural Development (RD) investments almost tripled from Fiscal Year 2008 to Fiscal Year 2009. American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding combined with regular program funding boosted USDA RD’s FY 09 spending to $354 million in loans and grants throughout rural New Mexico -- a boost from $154 million in FY 08. The funds paid for the construction of water and wastewater systems, community facilities, business development, homeownership, electric and telecommunications projects.
In making the announcement, Brunner said, “USDA Rural Development made a significant difference in rural New Mexico in 2009.” Brunner added, “The Obama Administration has worked hard in rural America to build a foundation for economic strength and future prosperity. Creating quality jobs, providing housing opportunities and ensuring that rural communities have safe, clean water is just some of what we did last year.” Brunner added, “We’ve also funded the upgrade and expansion of electric and telecommunication transmission across the State—vital infrastructure improvements for our rural communities. Rural New Mexico made great strides in 2009 and we expect to continue that pace in 2010.”
Ribbon cutting event for grand opening for Hampton Inn Hotel in Deming, New Mexico. Rural Development’s Business and Industry (B&I) Guaranteed loan program provided a $5 million guaranteed loan for hotel construction.
In FY ‘08 RD made more than $84-million in loans and grants in the programs administered in New Mexico and another $50-million was obligated for electric and telecommunications loans administered in Washington, D. C.
In FY-09, USDA Rural Development funded a total of $155,524,007 in business, community facility, housing, and water and wastewater projects. Electric and telecommunications projects across the state received $199,475,648 in funding for a grand total of $354,999,655 in USDA Rural Development loans and grants in New Mexico.
The loans and grants were distributed to rural New Mexicans in the following areas:
Firefighters from the Angel Fire Fire Department push a fire engine back into the bay of newly-constructed fire station #2. USDA Rural Development’s community facilities loan program provided $700,000 for the project.
- RD Business Programs issued $11,972,653 in loans and grants to fund nineteen business projects located in communities of less than 50,000 people. USDA RD funded a wind turbine for Lalo’s convenience store in Vaughn, NM.
- RD Water and Environmental Programs financed $46,853,854 in loans and grants to build or refurbish 23 water and wastewater projects in communities of less than 10,000 people in rural New Mexico. This year, USDA RD assisted with $9.7 million in funding for a new wastewater treatment plant for Ruidoso and Ruidoso Downs.
- RD Community Facilities Programs financed eleven projects with loans and grants, for the construction of numerous community buildings and the purchase of first responder equipment in communities of less than 20,000 people for a total of $43,425,049. Stimulus funding provided $9.4 million for the constriction of Guadalupe County’s new hospital.
- RD Housing Programs issued loans and grants in the amount of $53,272,451 in several housing programs which helped 472 become homeowners or helped families refurbish and remodel their homes in areas populated by less than 20,000 people
- RD Electric Programs issued four loans to electric co-ops for a total of $103,625,000. Some of the co-operatives also provide electric services to communities in neighboring states.
- RD Telecommunications Programs provided $95,850,648 to eight telephone cooperatives and educational institutions to expand broadband, communication and distance learning infrastructure throughout rural New Mexico. LEACO telephone cooperative received more than $50 million in funding for internet service to northern Lea County.
USDA Rural Development's mission is to increase economic opportunity and improve the quality of life in rural communities. Further information on rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office or by visiting USDA's web site.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Teague to Join Rural Development Event in Tatum on Monday to Celebrate Loan for Expanded Broadband
USDA Rural Development State Director Terry Brunner announced yesterday that Congressman Harry Teague will join him to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Rural Development’s telecommunications program during a check presentation event for a loan to the LEACO Rural Telephone Cooperative at 10:00 AM on Monday, October 26th, at the Tatum Community Center, 508 East Ash.
In making the announcement Brunner said, “The $57.8 million dollar award to LEACO is representative of the 60 year commitment made to rural America by USDA Rural Development.” Brunner added, “We’ve had a major impact on the everyday lives to the citizens of New Mexico. Over the past 60 years we’ve provided millions of dollars in loan and grants to build the infrastructure for communications, electricity and water and waste water systems in rural communities across New Mexico.”
USDA’s rural telephone loan program was established in 1949 to expand upon the Rural Electrification Administration’s success in bringing electricity to rural America. As did the electrification program, the telephone program fueled economic growth for millions of rural families and businesses by providing connectivity as well as access to business and emergency services.
The telecommunications program anniversary will be commemorated with the commitment of a $57,827,000 loan being made to the LEACO Rural Telephone Cooperative based in Hobbs. “The loan funds will bring new and improved telecommunications services to rural residents in Lea County and in turn residents will have a state-of-the-art communications service which will promote business development, increase job opportunities and improve access to educational services,” said Brunner.
The loan to LEACO is being made through the Rural Development Broadband Loan and Loan Guarantee Program, which provides low-interest loans to deploy broadband and telecommunications services to rural communities of 20,000 residents or less, with first priority going to areas without broadband.Further information on the telecommunications program and other rural programs can be obtained by calling 505-761-4950 or by visiting USDA’s web site at www.rurdev.usda.gov .
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Sen. Udall Congratulates Sacred Wind for 'Shine a Light' Win
Senator Tom Udall congratulated Albuquerque-based Sacred Wind Communications for winning the “Shine a Light” small business contest for their work to improve telecommunications services for the Navajo Nation. Fewer than four out of every 10 homes on the reservation currently have access to basic telephone services.
“I want to congratulate Sacred Wind Communications for using their vision and expertise to help bridge the digital divide that exists for families and businesses on the Navajo Nation. Sacred Wind is a great example of how the entrepreneurial spirit can be unleashed to make a real difference in the lives of people who need it most. The Navajo Nation suffers from staggering rates of unemployment, preventable diseases and in many cases third-world living conditions so Sacred Wind’s commitment to improve the kinds of access so many of us take for granted is truly inspiring,” Udall said in a statement released yesterday.
Sacred Wind Communication will receive $50,000 in grant money and $50,000 in marketing support from the contest sponsors NBC Universal and American Express. The company beat out over 4,000 other companies that competed for the award for most inspiring small business.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Udall, Bingaman Push for Reform of Patriot Act, Repeal of Telecom Immunity
Sen. Udall discusses JUSTICE Act
Now this is change we can believe in. U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman today joined in introducing legislation to reform the Patriot Act and other surveillance laws to better protect Americans’ constitutional right to privacy while providing the government with the tools necessary to effectively fight terrorism.
According to a joint statement released today by the Senators, the legislation, titled the Judiciously Using Surveillance Tools in Counterterrorism Efforts (JUSTICE) Act, would:
- Add reasonable safeguards for the FBI’s use of National Security Letters, which require the disclosure of sensitive personal information by banks, credit card companies, and telephone and Internet service providers. NSLs don’t require judicial approval, and recipients are barred from revealing that the records were demanded.
- Repeal retroactive legal immunity for telecommunications companies that complied with the government’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program.
- Modify the so-called “John Doe” roving wiretaps, which allow the government to monitor suspects who may be trying to escape detection by using multiple phones or other communication devices.
- Revise the “library records” provision, which currently allows the government to obtain orders for private records of American citizens even if they are not suspected terrorists. New safeguards would require the government to show that the individual has some connection to terrorism or espionage.
Click for a Fact Sheet (pdf) on the JUSTICE Act.
“The 2001 Patriot Act, its 2006 reauthorization, and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 failed to protect the privacy rights of innocent Americans and did nothing to guard against potential abuse,” Udall said. “The JUSTICE Act strikes the right balance between respecting the needs of our law enforcement to pursue suspected terrorists and upholding the rights of law-abiding citizens to live free from unnecessary government intrusion in their lives. I firmly believe we can keep our nation secure without infringing on the inherent rights of the American people.”
“We must provide law enforcement with the tools they need to protect our country, and do so in a way that also safeguards Americans’ rights. This legislation addresses both of these important objectives by ensuring our security and upholding our cherished constitutional protections,” Bingaman said.
Udall, a former federal prosecutor and New Mexico attorney general, was one of just 66 members of the 435-member House of Representatives to vote against the 2001 Patriot Act. He also opposed the 2006 Patriot Act reauthorization and the 2008 FISA Amendments Act after expressing strong objections about the impact of the proposals on the privacy rights of Americans.
The JUSTICE Act has been endorsed by more than two dozen organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, American Library Association, the Brennan Center of Justice, PEN American Center, and the U.S. Bill of Rights Foundation.
Sponsors of the legislation include: Russ Feingold (D-WI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jon Tester (D-MT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
Friday, March 13, 2009
Guest Blog by PRC Commissioner Jason Marks: Qwest Legislation Not a Good Deal for Consumers
Consumers ought to know about two pieces of legislation “sponsored” by Qwest that I have been opposing as they make their way through the 2009 New Mexico Legislature.
SB 445 – Qwest Price Deregulation
This bill would take away most of the PRC's authority to regulate Qwest’s and Windstream’s prices for telephone services, effective July 1, 2009. The only services the PRC could continue to price regulate would be the first basic residential or business line. (SB 445 originally permitted even the prices for these basic services to increase up to $1/month each July, but this was changed in response to opposition.) This means that if you have a second line at your house or business, Qwest could charge whatever they like for that service. It also means that if you take add-on features or a bundle of services from Qwest at your home, or use something other than a basic telephone line at your business; for example a Centrex multi-line system, ISDN, etc., the company will be able to charge you whatever they choose for that without PRC oversight.
Qwest’s justification for this legislation is that they are facing increased competition and they need to respond. The obvious question is, why would they need the ability to raise their prices in order to hold market share in a competitive market?
It is true that Qwest now operates in a competitive environment for many services in at least some parts of the state, and rate regulation ought to be relaxed where active competition is present. But there are also market segments in New Mexico where Qwest still has a virtual monopoly. This is clearly the case in rural areas the company serves, and there are even many pockets in Albuquerque where there is no alternative provider for home or business wireline phone service. One thing that would make SB 445 a little better would be a provision requiring Qwest to charge the same prices statewide. That way, customers in non-competitive markets would be guaranteed to get the same price Qwest was using in markets where it faced the most intense competition. But as it stands, SB 445 gives Qwest the "keys to the kingdom" with respect to pricing.
SB 445 also takes away the PRC’s ability to enforce quality of service standards by ordering customer credits. The PRC could still order fines. Currently, Qwest must pay all customers in a “wire center” a credit if they fall short on service metrics. Past Qwest quality shortfalls have resulted in credits that are more than the PRC's maximum fining authority. Also, under PRC rules eliminated by SB 445, Qwest must pay a meaningful credit to individual customers who have experienced a service shortfall such as an extended delay in repairing an outage or connecting a new service. Credits mechanisms provide an important check on Qwest quality of service in communities and markets where alternative services are not available to those dissatisfied with Qwest, and should not be eliminated.
SB 470 – Recovery of Relocation Costs From Telephone Customers
This bill allows Qwest and other regulated telephone companies to impose a surcharge on customer bills to recover costs of relocating lines and other infrastructure due to road construction projects. The PRC would be able to modify how the surcharge was imposed, for example, over how many months the costs were spread, but would not be able to say no or reduce the amount of the telephone company’s request below the company’s actual cost.
While this sounds plausible at first blush, the problem is that in 2000, Qwest and Windstream, our two largest phone companies, chose to stop having their rates set based on their costs. Instead, we have “alternative forms of regulation” (AFOR) plans. Since 2000, Qwest has dramatically reduced many of its costs; for example, it has unfortunately laid off a huge part of its New Mexico workforce. Because we now have price regulation, not cost regulation, Qwest has not shared any of these cost reductions with customers. Now, they want to get a surcharge so customers will pay this one category of costs without the PRC getting a chance to see how their overall costs have changed. By the way, line relocation costs are nothing new and I have to assume that they are already recognized in today’s rates, which are based on the old cost-based rates.
Testimony during a Senate Public Affairs Committee (SPAC) hearing suggested that the surcharge might be in the range of $1 to $2 per line per year (equivalent to $1 million to $2 million in relocation costs), but could be higher or lower. Although the SPAC approved an unfriendly amendment to SB 470 by Senator Asbill shifting responsibility from customers to the governmental entity causing the relocation costs, Qwest is working to un-do the amendment. This bill just needs to be defeated.
A final note
It's really important that consumers who are concerned about these bills contact their State Senator and Representative. Unfortunately, these kinds of bills are easy for corporate lobbyists to pass when they can slide under the radar screen without any public attention.
On a more positive note, I wanted to let you know we have secured a modest title insurance reform bill that opens the door to consumer savings from price competition and specifies large discounts for policies obtained for home refinancings. This was only possible through the strong support of House Speaker Ben Lujan and the advocacy of Think New Mexico.
This is a guest blog by PRC Commissioner Jason Marks. If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link on the upper left-hand corner of the page.