THE LATEST ON THE MUNICIPAL ACCESS LINE SAGA
Previous articles in the TML Legislative Update have pointed out that some in state government believe that municipal access line fees (the current method by which telephone providers compensate cities for the use of municipal rights-of-way) should be reduced or eliminated.
In December 2009, the Public Utility Commission voted to publish a proposed rule for public comment that would make certain “tweaks” to the access line system. At a May 14, 2010, commission meeting, the commissioners took no action on the adoption of the technical aspects of the rulemaking. Rather, one commissioner asked for a one-day workshop among the commissioners and interested parties. That workshop took place on August 13.
Clarence West, an attorney who represents the Texas Coalition of Cities for Utility Issues (TCCFUI), testified on behalf of TCCFUI and the Texas Municipal League. Mr. West, along with TML staff, participated in the enactment and drafting of the original 1999 access line bill and he has been active in the PUC projects implementing the bill since 1999. He explained to the commission that – contrary to what some have alleged – municipal access line fees in most cities have been in decline for several years. That decline is attributable to various factors, not the least of which is the “migration” of many consumers to wireless phone service.
Lubbock Mayor Tom Martin also provided testimony. Mayor Martin’s comments focused on the right-of-way management problems faced by the city. Telecommunications companies have not been the best stewards of the rights-of-way in Mayor Martin’s city. His position was that, in addition to providing rental income for public property, access line fees are absolutely necessary to fix damage done to streets and other public property by telecommunications providers. Mayor Martin showed several real-world examples of the destruction to his city’s streets by telephone providers. He also explained that his city’s revenue from access line fees, like many other cities, has been dropping.
The City of San Antonio and various telecommunications providers also testified. Some of those providers advocated changes to the current system, but it appears that there is no agreement on how that should be done.
It appears that municipal right-of-way fee compensation will become an important legislative issue next session. League staff will continue to work with TCCFUI and individual cities to ensure that this important revenue source is not eroded, and that city rights-of-way are respected.