Committee approves Wiggins bill for affordable rural phone service

SACRAMENTO – A key Senate committee on Jan. 15 approved SB 780, legislation by North Coast Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) to preserve basic telephone service and keep rates affordable for customers in rural and high cost areas.

The Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications voted 8-0 in favor of the Wiggins bill, which would maintain service and affordable rates by extending the California High-Cost Fund A and High-Cost Fund B programs, currently set to expire next January, through Jan. 1, 2013.

Current state law requires the California Public Utilities Commission to develop programs to ensure that Universal Telephone Service is provided in high-cost areas at affordable rates. These programs are referred to as the High-Cost Fund A and High-Cost Fund B.

The two programs reduce the cost of telephone service to rural and high cost-to-serve customers by subsidizing those costs with surcharges levied on all telephone service.

Four years ago, when the Legislature last considered extending the sunset for these programs, the telephone companies estimated that the elimination of these programs would increase basic telephone service rates by $17 a month to $149 a month for the smaller telephone companies.

Fund A provides a source of supplemental revenues to 17 small, rural local telephone companies: Calaveras Telephone Co.; California-Oregon Telephone Co.; Citizens Telecommunications Co. of the Golden State; Citizens Telecommunications Co. of Tuolumne; Ducor Telephone Co.; Evans Telephone Co.; Foresthill Telephone Co.; Happy Valley Telephone Co.; Hornitos Telephone Co.; Kerman Telephone Co.; Pinnacles Telephone Co.; the Ponderosa Telephone Co.; Sierra Telephone Co.; Siskiyou Telephone Co.; Verizon West Coast Inc.; the Volcano Telephone Co.; and Winterhaven Telephone Co.

“This bill is necessary to maintain universal and affordable high-quality service in high-cost areas of the state, particularly where telecommunications competition is limited like it is in my rural district,” Wiggins said in her testimony before the committee this morning.

SB 780 will next be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee (date to be announced).

Wiggins represents California’s large 2nd Senate District, which includes portions or all of six counties: Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Solano and Sonoma.

Visit Wiggins' Web site at