ITTA, NTCA, OPASTCO and WTA Applaud Congress For Passing H.R. 5419 and Preventing Higher Telecom Costs for All Consumers: High-Cost and Low-Income USF Safe for Temporary 12-Month Period; More Work Ahead

December 9, 2004, Washington, D.C. - Efforts by four national telecommunications trade associations, the Independent Telephone & Telecommunications Alliance (ITTA), the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA), the Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies (OPASTCO), and the Western Telecommunications Alliance (WTA) to fix the universal service accounting debacle paid off late last night when the Senate passed by unanimous consent H.R. 5419, which included the "Universal Service Antideficiency Temporary Suspension Act." The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill Nov. 20. H.R. 5419 was the last bill Congress passed before the 108th Congress came to a close. Contact Caitlin Colligan at 703-351-2086

The Associations have been championing a solution, preferably permanent, or temporary, to prevent the Universal Service Fund from remaining subject to the federal Antideficiency Act (ADA). The ADA had already been applied to the USF`s Schools and Libraries, and Rural Healthcare funds, which had caused recipients of these funds to experience a gap in support. The Associations fought hard to remove the ADA requirement from the USF so that the rule would not be applied to the High-Cost and Low-Income USF funds. The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), which manages the funds, estimated that if the ADA remained applicable to the universal service funds, the universal service contribution charge on consumer phone bills would have increased from the current 8.9 percent to 13.25 percent, or to increase the contribution factor in the short term by at least 25%, to generate the "cash-on hand" required by the ADA.

"We commend the Congress for recognizing the devastating impact the FCC`s internal accounting modification would have had on rural telephone companies, and acting to prevent the ADA form being applied to the USF," the Associations stated. "Consumers everywhere have been saved from higher telecom bills, our country`s schools and libraries, and rural healthcare providers will see immediate relief, and consumers in high-cost areas have a reprieve from the possibility that their local telecom networks could be in jeopardy. The work is far from over, but yesterday`s Senate action gives all affected parties time to develop a permanent solution to this issue."

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About NTCA:
NTCA is the premier association representing nearly 600 locally owned and controlled telecommunications cooperatives and commercial companies throughout rural and small-town America. NTCA provides its members with legislative, regulatory and industry representation; meetings; publications and educational programs; and an array of employee benefit programs. Visit us at www.ntca.org.

About ITTA:
The Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance is an alliance of 12 midsize telephone companies formed in 1994 to represent its members before federal telecommunications policymakers. ITTA members currently operate in 40 states and serve approximately ten million local customers.

About OPASTCO:
The Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies (OPASTCO) represents more than 560 small, independently owned, local telecommunications companies serving primarily rural areas of the United States and Canada. OPASTCO`s membership includes both commercial companies and cooperatives, which range in size from fewer than 100 to 100,000 access lines, and collectively serve more than 3.5 million customers. OPASTCO represents rural telecommunications interests before federal regulatory bodies and Congress, provides publications, and holds two conventions annually in January and July of each year, addressing the needs of the small telecommunications industry. The association has an affiliate 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Foundation for Rural Education and Development (FRED). Visit the OPASTCO Web site at www.opastco.org.

About WTA:
The Western Telecommunications Alliance represents more than 250 rural telephone companies in 24 states west of the Mississippi. Most members serve less than 3,000 customers overall, and less than 500 customers per exchange. The Western Telecommunications Alliance aims to unite a diverse industry to deliver influence in the western states and in Washington D.C. that reflects our member importance in providing high quality telecommunications services for rural Americans. Visit the WTA Web site at www.w-t-a.org.