A bill that seeks to expand access to telecommunications services and develop broadband access across Oregon cleared the joint committee on ways and means subcommittee on transportation and economic development on June 12.

The bill, House Bill 2184 B, seeks to bridge the gap in funding to the current Oregon Universal Service Fund (OUSF) caused by user decline of landlines. The OUSF, created in 1999 by the Oregon State Legislature, provides targeted investments for telecommunications service in rural areas of the state.

The fund receives revenues from a surcharge placed on landlines. As cell phones were new to the market at inception of this program, cell phones and providers were granted an exemption to the surcharge, even while landline networks were and are used to complete calls and text messages by all users. Today, cell phones lead the market and are still exempted from the surcharge. This has resulted in a significant decline in the OUSF revenues as landline use has plummeted. Overall revenues in the fund are 60 percent of what was brought in in the first operational year, even while rate has increased from 2.35 percent to the statutory cap of 8.5 percent.  

HB 2184 B expands the surcharge to cell phone providers and voice over internet protocol (VOIP) to create an equitable and broad surcharge base reflective of today’s telecommunications usage. The bill also creates a fund specific to broadband to assist communities in developing broadband networks that would reach across the state to serve all Oregonians.

The bill now heads to the full ways and means committee for further consideration.

Association of Oregon Counties (AOC) supports HB 2184 B and efforts to bridge the funding gap to provide critical components for community infrastructure to rural Oregon. For questions, please contact AOC Legislative Affairs Manager, Patrick Sieng.

Contributed by: Megan Chuinard | Public Affairs Associate