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TDS opposing proposed state bill

TDS Telecom is opposing a state legislature bill that would take away millions of dollars in revenues from local networks, TDS state government affairs manager Bruce Mottern said.

The bill (HB 0574 and SB 0598) would change the in-state access charge, charges paid between companies to use each others’ networks, or physical infrastructure.

“Access charges are charges paid between companies for the use of the network, and that’s a high-level summary. These access charges are legally tariffed rates that, from my perspective, ensure that all Tennesseans have affordable service and affordable rates, regardless of where they live,” Mottern said.

Each company has its own legally regulated rate, he added.

A press release sent out by TDS said the reduction in access charge fees could mean that the local networks, including TDS, could collectively lose $12 to $15 million a year.

Mottern said the bill is unfair to local networks, which expend large amounts of money to improve infrastructure in rural areas, where profits made by extending that infrastructure might not make up the cost expended.

Local networks, like TDS, also expend money on more advanced technology, such as TDS’s fiber optic network.

“That fiber, that’s our investment. And we need to continue to invest in emerging technology in all parts of our service area,” Mottern said.

This new legislation would change rates from intrastate rates to interstate rates, which are about five cents lower and regulated by the Federal Communication Commission.

“The interstate rates are lower. On the state side, they’ve not done that, but many states around the nation are taking a look ... at this issue,” Mottern said.

Mottern said that if the access rates changed, it could mean a “significant rate increase” for TDS customers.

“We need to protect consumers; we need to protect our customers to ensure affordable local rates and to continue our investment,” Mottern said.

“You can’t just reduce these rates and increase consumer rates and say, ‘Great.’ ... They’re putting all the pressure on the consumers,” he added.

State Rep. Ryan Haynes (Dist. 14) said his biggest concern over the bill was how it would affect ratepayers.

“In these kinds of economical environments, I’m always skeptical when government is getting involved in rate-setting issues,” he said.

Haynes added that while he hadn’t read the bill yet, he hoped legislators could look through the bill and choose the wisest option for everyone.

“We’ll probably hear this bill in the commerce committee, which I serve on, over the next few weeks. I know that there is a tremendous amount of lobbying over this,” he said.

“It’s my hope that before people make up their mind on this legislation they take the time to, No. 1, read it and No. 2, not be swayed by lobbying groups, and they’re on both sides of the issue,” he added.

The bill, the Uniform Access, Competition and Consumer Fairness Act of 2001, has been introduced in both the state House and Senate.

According to the TDS press release, TDS has deployed high speed Internet to 97 percent of its customers and has deployed fiber optic-based TDS TV in Farragut and Mt. Juliet.


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