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Preserving Local Telephone Service in High-cost Areas

Fortnightly Magazine - November 15 1995

long-distance bills, which makes the total telephone bills for rural and urban residential customers about the same. Rural calling areas are small. Unlike urban customers, rural customers often must pay toll rates to call schools, stores, doctors, and government services. Moreover, the cost of operating telephone switches and interoffice facilities is higher in rural areas, due to a smaller number of customers, lower calling volumes, and greater distance between switch and customer.

Rural customers often must pay toll rates to call schools, stores, and doctors.

Historically, we have built U.S. telecommunications policy around several cornerstones. One such cornerstone is the goal of "universal service." The Communications Act of 1934 defined that concept as everyone having a telephone.

At OPASTCO we champion six policies vital to rural America in the competitive era. First, rural subscribers are entitled to the same quality and types of telecommunications service as urban subscribers, at reasonable rates. Second, geographic toll-rate averaging must remain a part of national telecommunications policy. Third, legislators and regulators must recognize that serving rural America is different. Fourth, telecommunications policy must encourage use of telecommunications services, not discourage it. Fifth, any public policy that prompts even a small number of subscribers to disconnect their telephone service, because they can no longer afford it, is unacceptable. Finally, LECs should continue to help fund universal service. The small LECs serving rural America provide the existing modern rural telecommunications infrastructure. They are the only ones committed to extending the information superhighway to all people in rural areas and are in the best position to ensure that rural Americans continue to receive quality service and do not become information

"have-nots."John N. Rose is executive vice president of OPASTCO, a national trade association that represents more than 450 small independently owned and operated local exchange carriers (LECs) serving more than 2 million subscribers in rural areas. Contact OPASTCO at 202-659-5990 for more information on its recent study, "Keeping Rural America Connected: Costs and Rates in the Competitive Era," or its two follow-up reports: "Keeping Rural America Connected: How Public Policy Has Created and Preserved Universal Service," and "Keeping Rural America Connected: The Dynamics of Serving Rural America."

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