Central Texas CEO Testifies at Senate Commerce Committee Hearing

Arlington, Va., October 17, 2007 – Congress must be sensitive to imposing regulations that would increase the cost of wireless service for rural consumers, according to testimony by Michael Higgins, Jr., Chief Executive Officer of Central Texas Telephone Cooperative and president of its subsidiary, West Central Wireless. Higgins testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on behalf of NTCA and the Rural Telecommunications Group (RTG).

Higgins told the committee that while consumer protection bill S. 2033, currently under consideration, is admirable in its efforts to help consumers receive fair wireless access, it would impose additional unfunded government mandates that would subsequently increase the cost of service to rural consumers—a result of rural carriers’ smaller customer bases over which to spread the cost of compliance.

“While the mandates are well intentioned, the actual benefit to the public is significantly less than the substantial cost of compliance, particularly if these mandates are to be applied with 'one-size-fits-all' blinders," Higgins said. “The last thing we want to do… is increase the cost to the rural consumer when there are other ways to address the issues identified in the proposed legislation."

In his testimony, Higgins urged Congress to focus its attention on the roaming practices of large carriers, pointing out that the current roaming environment creates significant barriers to entry and weaken competition, harming both rural and urban customers.

Higgins also said S. 2033 does not go far enough in addressing the issue of handset locking.  By only requiring an FCC report on the practice, the bill fails to address the broader issue of exclusivity in relationships between handset vendors and large carriers.  
He told the committee that small carriers—and their customers—typically have access to a limited choice of handsets and devices, and this lack of access harms rural consumers and dampens competition.

“We need to resolve the problem, not just study the problem," Higgins said.

View Higgins’ written testimony

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About NTCA:
The National Telecommunications Cooperative Association is the premier association representing more than 560 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 RTG:
Rural Telecommunications Group is dedicated to promoting wireless opportunities for rural telecommunications companies through advocacy and education in a manner that best represents the interests of its membership.  RTG’s members have joined together to speed the delivery of new, efficient, and innovative telecommunications technologies to the populations of remote and underserved sections of the country.  RTG’s members provide wireless telecommunications services, such as cellular telephone service and Personal Communications Services, among others, to their subscribers.  RTG’s members are small businesses serving or seeking to serve secondary, tertiary, and rural markets.  RTG’s members are comprised of both independent wireless carriers and wireless carriers that are affiliated with rural telephone companies.