Release: PUC’s Nelson to testify at U.S. Senate hearing about telecommunications program

PUC’s Nelson to testify at U.S. Senate hearing about telecommunications program

PIERRE, S.D. – South Dakota Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson will testify before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in Washington, tomorrow, Sept. 6, 2017. Senator John Thune, chairman of the committee, invited Nelson to offer remarks about the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline Program.

The Lifeline Program provides support to telecommunications companies that offer discounts on telecommunications services to eligible low-income households. According to its 2016 annual report, the Universal Service Administrative Co. distributed an estimated $1.5 billion in Lifeline support to telecommunications companies in 2016. The USAC delivers funding for the Lifeline program under the guidance of the FCC.

Wednesday’s hearing is titled, “Persistent Risk of Fraud, Waste, and Abuse in the FCC’s Lifeline Program.” Hearing participants will also address a report issued this summer by the Government Accountability Office about action needed to address risks in the Lifeline Program.

“My overarching message to the committee will be that the federal government must work closely with the states to cooperatively manage and oversee the Lifeline program in order for it to effectively reach the low-income customers who truly need assistance,” Nelson said.

Telecommunications companies must be designated as an eligible telecommunications carrier in order to participate in the Lifeline program. In most states, including South Dakota, the designation is evaluated and determined annually by the PUC. In 2016, the South Dakota PUC designated 34 telecommunications carriers as eligible to participate in the Lifeline program.

Nelson will advocate that states maintain a strong role in the eligibility designation process. “State regulator involvement provides oversight by the hands and eyes closest to where the companies operate,” Nelson stated in his written testimony.

The committee is expected to hear testimony about the national Lifeline eligibility verifier, a new plan designed to determine subscriber eligibility, conduct annual recertification and maintain an eligibility database. Nelson lauded the concept. He suggested the development and implementation of the complex plan will require organizational acuity and coordination. “It is imperative that the FCC and USAC continue to push hard to complete this task,” he said.

View a live webcast of the hearing at 10 a.m. EDT (9 a.m. CDT/8 a.m. MDT) on Wednesday, Sept. 6, at www.commerce.senate.gov.

Nelson is serving his seventh year on the PUC. He has vast experience in telecommunications issues including serving on the FCC’s Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service and as past chairman of the National Association of Utility Regulator’s Committee on Telecommunications.

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