HOUSTON — Check your phone bills, chances are they’re more expensive this month. The hike is in a little-known surcharge called the Texas Universal Service Fund. The Texas Public Utility Commission voted to implement an increase in that fund from 3.3% to 24%.
The new rate hike will add a couple of dollars to some cell phone plans. If you have a family plan or pay-as-you-go, it could be a little more expensive. A Google Fi customers noticed his bill jumped more than $7.
The Texas Universal Service Fund allows phone providers to service rural areas so that all Texans have access to basic communications. You’ll find more information on the TUSF here.
According to the Texas Telephone Association website, the PUC stopped paying more than 70% of its Universal Service Fund obligation in January 2021. The shortfall is $200 million.
The website also has a statement from the association’s board president.
“For two years, rural Texans have faced the uncertainty of whether their local phone companies would be able to ride out the financial storm created when the Public Utility Commission stopped funding universal communications services for rural areas of the state — and whether they might face dramatic increases in their phone bills or lose service altogether as a result,” said Rusty Moore, General Manager and COO of BBT Telecom and Board President of the Texas Telephone Association. “Today we are thrilled the court has agreed with us — USF is a fundamental building block of a connected rural Texas.”
Last month, a court ordered the PUC to fix shortfalls in the fund. In part, here’s what the PUC said in a statement to KHOU11.
“As a result, the PUC adopted a temporary rate of 24 percent up from 3.3 percent, which will generate enough in fees to fully fund all outstanding obligations. Once the outstanding obligations are fulfilled, the Commission anticipates lowering the rate to a level that maintains the fund balance going forward, which could be within the next 12 months. Phone companies that must pay into the USF may choose to pass this cost on to customers. “
Some T-Mobile customers started getting text messages at the beginning of August about the rate increase. Here’s what T-Mobile sent KHOU11.
“While this will not impact the overall monthly bill for the vast majority of T-Mobile and Sprint customers who are on plans with monthly taxes and fees included, customers on other plans may see a small increase. It’s hard to say approximately how much as it will very for each customer and how they use their service, but it should be nominal.”
The PUC says it anticipates lowering the rate within 12 months.