Senator Fraser Announces Legislation
Updating Texas Telecom Policy for the 21st Century
AUSTIN - State Senator Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, today filed Senate Bill 332, updating a 10-year-old law that would stimulate competition and create jobs in new and innovative communications technologies.
"This is simply another step in the orderly transition Texas has been making for several decades to move the communications industry from a monopoly to a fully competitive marketplace," Fraser said. "There has been an explosion of new technologies and state policy needs to recognize those changes."
"I want to modernize communications policy and create a regulatory framework that keeps pace with the changes in the 21st century marketplace," Fraser said.
The Public Utilities Regulatory Act, or PURA, was passed by the Texas Legislature in 1995. In 1999, Fraser was a key negotiator of PURA update legislation that resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in savings for Texas long-distance consumers.
This session, the law is up for a regularly scheduled review by the Legislature. Fraser is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce that will lead the PURA review process in the Senate.
"As we rewrite PURA, we have a golden opportunity to build on Texas' position as a national leader in creating forward-looking communication law."
Senate Bill 332 will open the telecommunications market August 1, 2007. On that date, the Public Utility Commission (PUC), with input from the legislative oversight committee, will determine if a region or market of the state should remain regulated. The bill allows certain small or rural telephone providers the ability to "opt-out" of competition if they choose. In addition, a telecommunications company could petition the PUC to open a market that has previously been closed if they prove that market is ready for competition.
The bill would also give consumers greater choices of money-saving packages of service and special offers by enhancing carriers' abilities to adjust their prices in response to competitive pressures. SB 332 would also streamline the regulatory requirements and processes to encourage new competitors to enter the marketplace.
Importantly, SB 332 also includes strong consumer protections. Among those, the rates for consumers who need the most basic service will continue to be regulated by the PUC.
"The bill also contains a provision aimed at reducing in-state long distance rates by 5 cents a minute." Fraser said.
Other consumer protections include a continuation of the Lifeline program, which provides deeply discounted telephone service for disadvantaged Texans. SB 332 would also continue the Texas Universal Service Fund, which keeps rates affordable in rural and other high-cost areas of the state.