NUSF 65 2007 03 16 Comments of Rural Independents by scRKqmi

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									            BEFORE THE NEBRASKA PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION

     In the Matter of the Nebraska Public Service    )   Application No. NUSF-65
     Commission, on its own motion, to investigate   )
     whether it should adopt standards for           )
     deployment and access to advanced services.     )

             COMMENTS OF THE RURAL INDEPENDENT COMPANIES

          The Rural Independent Companies hereby submit their comments in response to

the Nebraska Public Service Commission’s (the “Commission”) January 17, 2007 Order

(the “Order”) entered in this proceeding. The Rural Independent Companies appreciate

the opportunity to provide their comments regarding the relationship between the

Nebraska Universal Service Fund (“NUSF”) and the deployment of, and access to,

advanced telecommunications and information services. (For ease of reference, the term

“advanced services” will be used in these Comments to refer to advanced

telecommunications and information services.)

I.        Introduction

          Item 9 of the Order states: “The Commission seeks comment on any other issue

germane to the issues raised above.” Rather than proceeding to initially comment in

response to items 1 through 8 of the Order, in the Rural Independent Companies’

collective view, it would be beneficial to review certain procedural and policy

considerations that are directly relevant to the Commission’s investigation of the subject

matter of this docket. Thus, a discussion of such considerations will first be provided,

followed by responses to items 1 through 8.

          The subject matter addressed in the Order, as well as the information presented

below and likely to be offered by other parties, presents a significant number of technical

and policy considerations that do not lend themselves to resolution in a single set of
comments by interested parties. Therefore, the Rural Independent Companies urge the

Commission to issue a further progression order in this docket that establishes a schedule

for reply comments; that sets a pre-hearing conference at which the considerations set

forth in Neb. Admin. Code, Title 291, Chap. 1, § 020 can be discussed by representatives

of all interested parties; and that establishes the procedures governing and the date for a

public hearing on the subject matter of the Order.

II.    State Policy as Declared by the Legislature

       In the Nebraska Telecommunications Universal Service Fund Act (the

“NTUSFA”), the Legislature declared that:

       [I]t is the policy of the state to preserve and advance universal service based on
       the following principles: . . .

       (2) Access to advanced telecommunications and information services should be
       provided in all regions of the state;

       (3) Consumers in all regions of the state, including low-income consumers and
       those in rural and high-cost areas, should have access to telecommunications and
       information services, including interexchange services and advanced
       telecommunications and information services, that are reasonably comparable to
       those services provided in urban areas and that are available at rates that are
       reasonably comparable to rates charged for similar services in urban areas. . .

Neb. Rev. Stat. § 86-323 (2006 Cum. Sup.) (emphasis added)

       The Legislature further directed that:

       The fund shall provide the assistance necessary to make universal access to
       telecommunications services available to all persons in the state consistent with
       the policies set forth in the Nebraska Telecommunications Universal Service Fund
       Act.

Neb. Rev. Stat. § 86-324(1) (2006 Cum. Sup.) (emphasis added)

       Section 86-323 requires that the assistance provided through the Nebraska

Universal   Service    Fund    (the   “NUSF”)        to   facilitate   “universal   access   to




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telecommunications services” shall be in accordance with the policies stated in the

NTUSFA. Since those policies include the provision of access to advanced services, it

follows that the Commission is required to administer the NUSF in a manner reasonably

calculated to achieve the goal of providing Nebraska consumers with access to advanced

services.

III.       Federal Policy as Declared by the Congress and the Federal
           Communications Commission

           The policy principles adopted by the Congress in Section 254 of the

Telecommunications Act of 1996 (the “Act”) include the following:

           (2)     ACCESS TO ADVANCED SERVICES. Access to advanced
           telecommunications and information services should be provided in all regions of
           the Nation.1

           (3) ACCESS IN RURAL AND HIGH COST AREAS. Consumers in all regions
           of the Nation, including low-income consumers and those in rural, insular, and
           high cost areas, should have access to telecommunications and information
           services, including interexchange services and advanced telecommunications and
           information services that are reasonably comparable to those services provided in
           urban areas and that are available at rates that are reasonably comparable to rates
           charged for similar services in urban areas.2

The Act also allows a state to “adopt regulations not inconsistent with the Commission’s

[Federal Communications Commission’s] rules to preserve and advance universal

service.”3

           In establishing rules to implement the policy principles contained in the Act

regarding access to advanced services, the FCC adopted the recommendation of the

Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service that high-cost universal service support



1
    47 U.S.C. §254(b)(2).
2
    47 U.S.C. §254(b)(3); emphasis added.
3
    47 U.S.C. §254(f).



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for non-rural carriers should be based on forward-looking economic cost (“FLEC”).4 The

FCC prescribed criteria for a FLEC model that would be used to determine federal

universal service support. Among such criteria was the requirement that “[t]he loop

design incorporated into a forward-looking economic cost study or model should not

impede the provision of advanced services.”5 In its specification of this required criterion

for a FLEC model, the FCC ensured that the design of the FLEC model used to determine

federal high-cost universal service support would not thwart the deployment of access to

advanced services, and that the amount of support to be provided would be based upon

the cost of a network that would facilitate access to advanced services.

            The federal high-cost universal service mechanism adopted by the FCC for rural

carriers is based on embedded cost, instead of FLEC. However, the rural universal

service support mechanism is also designed in a way that is intended not to impede the

deployment of modern plant capable of providing access to advanced services.6 The FCC

has indicated that use of support to invest in infrastructure capable of providing access to

advanced services does not violate Section 254(e) of the Act, which mandates that

support is to be used “only for the provision, maintenance, and upgrading of facilities and

services for which the support is intended.”7               The FCC recognized that the public

switched telephone network is not a single-use network. Therefore, rural carriers can use


4
    See Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service, CC Docket No. 96-45, Report and Order, FCC 97-
     157 (rel. May 7, 1997) at para. 223.
5
    Id. at para. 250(1) (emphasis added).
6
    See Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service, CC Docket No. 96-45, Multi-Association Group
     (MAG) Plan for Regulation of Interstate Services of Non-Price Cap Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers
     and Interexchange Carriers, CC Docket No. 00-256, Fourteenth Report and Order, Twenty-Second
     Order on Reconsideration, and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in CC Docket No. 96-45, and
     Report and Order in CC Docket No. 00-256, FCC 01-157 (rel. May 23, 2001) at para. 200.
7
    Ibid.



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federal high-cost universal service support to build modern network infrastructure

capable of providing access not only to voice services, but also to data, graphics, and

other advanced services.

          The FCC’s high-cost universal service support mechanisms for both non-rural and

rural carriers are designed to facilitate deployment of access to advanced services in

accordance with federal universal service principles. Therefore, the Rural Independent

Companies submit that the NUSF should continue to be structured in the future in a

manner that similarly facilitates deployment of access to advanced services.

IV.       Commission Rules Regarding Supported Services

          In the NTUSFA, the Legislature delegated to the Commission the authority and

duty to “adopt and promulgate rules and regulations as reasonably required . . . to

efficiently develop, implement, and operate the fund.” Neb. Rev. Stat. § 86-325 (2006

Cum. Sup.) In Neb. Admin. Code, Title 291, Chap. 10, § 004.01B1, the Commission has

stated:

          An NETC shall only receive NUSF funding for the actual provision of
          supported services as described in Rule 004.02. (emphasis added)

“Supported Service” is defined in Section 001.01U of the NUSF Rules as:

                 A telecommunications service, excluding interexchange service and
          extended area service, designated by Commission Rule for which an NETC
          providing such service may receive support from the NUSF. The Commission
          may, on an interim basis in accordance with Commission rules and regulations,
          designate a supported telecommunications service by order until such time as a
          rulemaking can be completed.

          The Commission has designated one service as a supported service that a

Nebraska Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (“NETC”) is required to provide to

qualify to receive NUSF support – basic local exchange service. See, Section 004.02A.




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The Commission has determined that basic local exchange service shall consist of eight

elements that are enumerated in Sections 004.02A1 through 004.02A8 of the NUSF

Rules.

         Currently, provision of access to advanced services is not an element of basic

local exchange service. While the loop cost model utilized in the Commission’s NUSF

Support Allocation Methodology (“SAM”) and as adopted in the NUSF-26 proceeding

incorporates, to a limited degree, provision of support for a telecommunications

infrastructure capable to provide access to advanced services, the Commission has not yet

designated provision of access to advanced such services as an element of basic local

exchange service, which is the supported service.

         Before the Commission proceeds with further consideration of the stated purpose

of this docket – “to explore the issue of whether broadband standards should be adopted,

what those standards should be, and how to measure deployment” – the Commission

should follow the proper procedural process required to make findings and issue an order

pursuant to Neb. Admin. Code, Title 291, Chap. 10, § 004.02B to determine whether an

interim designation of the provision of access to advanced services as a further element of

basic local exchange service is proper. Rule 004.01D states:

         The Commission may impose, on an interim basis, such requirements as
         it deems necessary to carry out the goals of the NUSF until such time as a
         rulemaking can be completed.

         If such an interim determination is made, the Commission should open a new

docket to properly notice the subject matter of such proposed interim determination, hold

a hearing to receive evidence and in due course issue its order based on the record

established in such docket.         Thereafter, if the Commission makes an interim




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determination with regard to access to advanced services, the Commission should

proceed to initiate a rulemaking to determine whether access to such services should

become an element of the supported service, basic local exchange service, and Rule

004.02A would be amended as may be appropriate.

V.         The Commission’s Existing Support Allocation Methodology Incorporates
           Limited Support For Advanced Services.

           As stated above, the Commission has already taken steps to provide support,

albeit in a limited way, for telecommunications infrastructure that is capable of carrying

broadband signals to subscribers’ premises. As the Rural Independent Companies noted

in their comments in the NUSF-48 proceeding, the SAM that has been approved for

calculation of NUSF distributions is based, at least in part, on the Benchmark Cost Proxy

Model (“BCPM”) with BCPM parameters that are based upon a network infrastructure

that allows access to advanced services.8 The Commission’s decision to implement the

SAM as part of its existing NUSF distribution model is an important step toward the

development of an NUSF support mechanism that would more fully achieve the policy of

the NTUSFA to provide access to advanced services.

           There are, however, two factors that serve to limit the NUSF support available to

carriers that invest in broadband-capable networks. The first limitation is that the SAM

model does not fully fund carriers’ loop costs. The SAM contains mathematical models

of loop cost and of loop revenue. Annual loop costs, as modeled by the SAM, are
                                      9
$370,784,758 for all carriers.            Annual loop revenues, as modeled by the SAM, are



8
    See In the Matter of the Nebraska Public Service Commission, On Its Own Motion, Seeking To Investigate
     Issues Related To Providing Dedicated Universal Service Support For Wireless Telecommunications
     Services, Application No. NUSF-48/PI-104, Comments of the Rural Independent Companies, at p. 6.
9
    See NUSF-50 Distribution Model, SA_Distribution sheet.


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$217,490,182 for all carriers.10 Carriers’ annual loop funding needs, therefore, total

$153,294,576 – the amount by which their costs exceed their revenues. The amount of

funding that is allocated by the SAM is fixed at $66,500,000 – or 43.4% of the funding

needs.11

           The other factor that limits NUSF support to carriers investing in networks that

facilitate access to advanced services is the manner in which the earnings cap is

calculated.       For any NETC whose NUSF support is capped by earnings – and is,

therefore, receiving less than its full SAM allocation – its NUSF support for any given

year is based on its NUSF support for a prior year. Such an NETC is able to increase its

NUSF support amount over prior years – up to its full SAM allocation – by investing in

new plant to a degree such that its earnings are reduced to less than 12%.

           The behavior that the Commission seeks to encourage through the SAM is

investment by the NETCs in telecommunications infrastructure that is capable of

supporting access to advanced services. Not only is the amount of investment required

for infrastructure to support advanced services very significant for an NETC, but further,

the time frame for recovery of such costs extends many years into the future. Thus, the

Rural Independent Companies emphasize that an NETC’s deployment of plant

investments in infrastructure capable of supporting access to advanced services

significantly depends upon receiving assurances from the Commission of its long-term

commitment to maintain the NUSF distribution methodology and NUSF support amounts


10
     Id.
11
     Except for the temporary Transitional Mechanisms (e.g. Per-Line Backstop and Over Earnings
     Redistribution), the amount allocated by the SAM acts as a ceiling on NUSF support. Actual support
     could be further reduced through application of the earnings cap and the Rural Benchmark deduction.
     Total NUSF support, after earnings adjustments, transitional mechanisms and the rural benchmark
     deduction, totals $61,790,059 – or 40.3% of the funding need – for 2007.



                                                    -8-
to assure recovery of the costs of such investments. Any action by the Commission to

add access to advanced services as an element of the supported service, basic local

exchange service, should explicitly include such assurances.

VI.      Specific Answers To The Questions Presented.

         The Commission has posed a series of specific questions, numbered 1 through 8,

some with subparts, in the Order opening this docket. In the following paragraphs, the

Rural Independent Companies offer their responses to these questions.

      1. Whether standards for broadband deployment should be adopted for Nebraska
         eligible telecommunications carriers (NETCs) receiving high-cost program
         support.

         The following response by the Rural Independent Companies is based upon the

assumption that “broadband deployment” is defined as provision of access to advanced

services.   As noted above, the NTUSFA contains a policy statement that identifies

inclusion of access to advanced services among the services that are to be supported by

the NUSF. As also noted above, the SAM mechanism provides limited support for

advanced services. Therefore, the Rural Independent Companies believe it is appropriate

for the Commission to adopt standards for deployment of advanced services in a manner

that is consistent with the limited level of support that the NUSF actually provides to

carriers for such deployment.

      2. How should the Commission define broadband for the purposes of this
         investigation? Should the Commission use the definition adopted by the Federal
         Communications Commission (FCC)?

         The Rural Independent Companies are not aware that the FCC has adopted a

definition of “broadband” or “broadband service.” The FCC has defined “high-speed

lines” as connections that deliver services at speeds exceeding 200 kbps in at least one




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direction, and has defined “advanced services lines” as connections that deliver services

at speeds exceeding 200 kbps in both directions.

        The Rural Independent Companies recommend that the Commission adopt a

working definition of “broadband” – for the present – that is equivalent to the FCC’s

current definition of “advanced services lines.”12 The Rural Independent Companies also

recommend that the Commission leave open the possibility of revising its definition of

“broadband” in the future to reflect improvements in technology and rising consumer

expectations.

     3. What should be the deployment threshold if the Commission adopts standards?
        Should the Commission measure deployment on a percentage basis, such as
        percentage of customers or percentage of area served?

        Again to begin this response with a clarification, the “deployment” described in

this Commission inquiry and items 4 and 5 below is interpreted by the Rural Independent

Companies as deployment of access to advanced services. Using such interpretation, the

Rural Independent Companies believe that the percentage of households, as counted by

the U.S. Census Bureau, which have access to advanced services is an appropriate

measurement of deployment. A count of households is the most effective approximation

available to the Commission consistent with the statutory requirement “to make universal

access to telecommunications services available to all persons in the state consistent with

the policies set forth in the NTUSFA.”




12
   The Rural Independent Companies urge the Commission to bear in mind throughout its consideration of
the issues in this docket that the NTUSFA speaks in terms of the NUSF supporting provision of access to
advanced telecommunications and information services. See Neb. Rev. Stat. §§86-323(2) and (3) and 86-
324(1). This means that the NUSF supports the building of the infrastructure required to provide such
access as opposed to supporting the services provided to consumers through the use of such infrastructure,
such as high speed xDSL service.


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       4. What should be the timeline for reaching any broadband deployment standard?
          Should the standard be fixed or should it gradually increase such as 60 percent in
          2007, 70 percent in 2008, etc?

           The Rural Independent Companies believe that standards for deployment of

access to advanced services should not be based upon a fixed schedule, but rather, should

reflect considerations based upon improvements in technology, consumer expectations

and availability of NUSF support to facilitate deployment of access to advanced services

in the least densely populated and therefore, the most costly areas of the State. The

FCC’s most recent Internet Access Report13 states that, in Nebraska, high-speed xDSL is

available at 86% of residential end-user premises where ILECs offer local telephone

service. The Rural Independent Companies recommend that the Commission utilize

more detailed analyses, such as that reflected in the Commission’s own Broadband

Survey Report, to ascertain the current level of deployment of access to advanced

services, and to establish initial standards for such access, and that the Commission

periodically review these standards in order to determine whether revisions are

reasonable, proper and necessary.

       5. If the Commission measures deployment on a percentage basis, how should the
          Commission measure it?

                i. What are the merits of measuring standards on a company/statewide
                   basis?

               ii. Should the standards be measured on a disaggregated basis such as the
                   exchange basis? Why or why not?

               iii. Should the standards be measured on a support area basis? Why or why
                    not?

               iv. Should the standards be measured on any other basis?
13
     See High-Speed Services for Internet Access: Status as of June 30, 2006, Industry Analysis and
     Technology Division, Wireline Competition Bureau, January, 2007; report available at
     www.fcc.gov/wcb/stats.



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           The Rural Independent Companies believe that the purpose of any measures

undertaken by the Commission to adopt deployment standards for access to advanced

services should be to encourage each NETC to meet the objectives outlined in Section

86-323 (2) and (3) of the NTUSFA within such NETC’s service area.                                Measuring

deployment on only a statewide basis would fail to identify which NETCs are and are not

meeting the statutory objectives.

           Measuring deployment on a company-by-company basis might appear to facilitate

identification of the companies which are meeting the objectives of the NTUSFA, but

such an approach could do so in a manner that would fail to account for the significant

differences among companies in terms of deployment costs. For example, the percentage

of households located in out-of-town Support Areas served by individual NETCs ranges

from a low of 8.9% for Qwest to 100% for Keystone-Arthur and Sodtown, with the

statewide average of households located in out-of town Support Areas being 15.8%.14

The average household density in NETCs’ out-of-town Support Areas ranges from a low

of 0.20 households per square mile for Consolidated Telephone to a high of 2.89

households per square mile for Hershey Cooperative Telephone, with the statewide

average household density being 1.41 households per square mile. The Commission’s

deployment measurements should take into account such significant demographic

differences among the areas served by individual NETCs.

           Measuring deployment on an exchange basis would fail to account for the

significant variations in deployment costs between urban and rural areas.                           Further,

exchange-by-exchange measurements could also inadequately account for the wide

14
     These and other similar statistics cited herein are derived from the Distribution_SA sheet of the NUSF-26
     Distribution Model.



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variation among exchanges in the portion of households located in a particular exchange

that are out-of-town, as well as the variation in household density of those out-of-town

portions. For example, the percentages of households in Nebraska’s telephone exchanges

that are out of town range from a low of 2.4% for the Lincoln Exchange to a high of

100% for eighteen different rural exchanges.15 Household density in the out-of-town

portion of Nebraska’s exchanges ranges from a low of 0.11 households per square mile in

the Mullen Exchange to a high of 52.3 households per square mile in the Omaha

Exchange.

           The Rural Independent Companies advocate that the Support Areas defined and

utilized in the Commission’s NUSF SAM are the appropriate geographic areas within

which deployment should be measured. Measuring deployment of access to advanced

services at the Support Area level is consistent with the Commission’s NUSF support

mechanism and identifies, in a coherent manner, geographic areas with varying levels of

deployment costs and the consequent need for additional NUSF support.

           Nevertheless, measurements of deployment of access to advanced services that

differentiate in-town and out-of-town portions of individual exchanges are likely to be

time-consuming and perhaps difficult to achieve. For this reason, the Rural Independent

Companies recommend that the Commission’s initial deployment standards be

implemented at the exchange level, and a further investigation be undertaken to develop

methods for efficiently measuring deployment of access to advanced services in a manner

that faithfully reflects the In-Town and Out-of-Town Support Areas defined in the SAM



15
     100% of households are in Out-of-Town Support Areas in the Archer, Ashby, Bingham, Brewster,
     Brownlee, Hendley, Keystone, Le Moyne, Mirage Flats, North Burwell, Purdum, St. Libory, Sodtown
     (St. Michael), Stockham, Surprise, Tryon, Walnut and Whitman Exchanges.



                                                  - 13 -
distribution model, following which such deployment should be measured at the Support

Area level.

   6. How should the Commission treat carriers who do not meet the broadband
      standards? Should the carrier be disqualified from receiving support? Should
      this affect their NETC eligibility?

       As noted above, the existing methodology for allocating NUSF support to NETCs

includes limited support for deployment of access to advanced services through the use of

BCPM parameters corresponding to the design characteristics of broadband-capable

infrastructure. Support for such capability is manifested in the SAM by allocation of

NUSF annual support – currently set at $66.5 million – predominantly to specific Support

Areas that are the most costly to serve. Therefore, the Rural Independent Companies

believe the appropriate focus of Commission regarding deployment of access to advanced

services is the SAM Support Area.

       The Rural Independent Companies do not believe it would be appropriate for the

Commission to revoke a carrier’s NETC designation, or to withhold all NUSF support, as

a consequence of the carrier’s failure to meet a Commission-established standard for

deployment of access to advanced services, assuming that the NETC is providing all

other elements of the supported service of basic local exchange service established in

NUSF Rule 004.02A throughout its entire service area and is in compliance with other

applicable Commission orders pertaining to the NUSF.

   7. Should there be a waiver process? If so, how should the waiver process be
      implemented?

       The Rural Independent Companies believe that a waiver process related to

standards governing provision of access to advanced services is good policy because of

the inherent difficultly of designing a regulatory framework that addresses every possible



                                          - 14 -
situation.   However, if a waiver process were adopted, such process should be

administered pursuant to an established set of guidelines such that all NETCs could

clearly understand the criteria that would govern a grant of waiver, thus minimizing to

the extent possible, any ad hoc waiver grants or denials. As previously stated in these

Comments, the Rural Independent Companies support Commission action to encourage

deployment of telecommunications infrastructure capable of providing access to

advanced services throughout the State. In order to be consistent with this goal, a waiver

process should be based upon stated criteria that can be administered in an even-handed

manner so that a waiver is granted only in appropriate circumstances.

        8. How should the Commission treat NETCs who provide service through the
           leasing of facilities such as unbundled network elements (UNEs)? Should
           they be required to meet any broadband deployment standards?

        The Rural Independent Companies do not believe that NETCs who utilize UNEs

to provide basic local exchange service should be required to comply with any broadband

deployment standards adopted by the Commission, because such NETCs have no control

over the transmission capabilities of leased facilities. The resolution of the ongoing

proceedings in dockets C-3554 and NUSF-50, Progression Order No. 3 are likely to

result in UNE rates and NUSF support amounts that strike a fair balance among the needs

of competitive NETCs, NETCs and consumers.

        9. The Commission seeks comment on any other issue germane to the issues
           raised above.

        As noted above, the Rural Independent Companies emphasize that the

effectiveness of the investment incentive contained in the NUSF distribution mechanism

depends on the Commission’s announcement of a clear, long-term commitment to

maintain the SAM distribution methodology and, at a minimum, the current level of



                                          - 15 -
NUSF support distributions from the High Cost Support Fund.                While support for

telecommunications infrastructure capable of providing access to advanced services is, in

fact, inherent in the SAM, deviations from the SAM can undermine the level of

confidence by management and owners of NETCs that is essential to meet the goal of

availability of access to advanced services in all regions of the State.

VIII. Conclusion

       The Rural Independent Companies generally support the establishment of

standards regarding the provision of access to advanced services, and believe that,

ultimately, the SAM Support Area is the appropriate level at which to measure and apply

such standards, but initially, deployment should be measured and standards applied at the

exchange level. The Commission should, above all, avoid making any modifications to

the existing NUSF distribution mechanism that would weaken the investment incentive

contained in that mechanism, as the effectiveness of this incentive is key to deployment

of telecommunications infrastructure to provide access to advanced services.

       Finally, as noted in the Introduction to these Comments, the Rural Independent

Companies urge the Commission to extend this proceeding to include a reply comment

cycle and a pre-hearing conference in order to more fully explore and develop the record

relating to the important issues raised in this docket.

       Dated: March 16, 2007.




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                                           Respectfully submitted,
                                           Arlington Telephone Company
                                           Blair Telephone Company,
                                           Cambridge Telephone Company,
                                           Clarks Telecommunications Co.,
                                           Consolidated Telco Inc.,
                                           Consolidated Telecom, Inc.,
                                           Consolidated Telephone Company,
                                           Eastern Nebraska Telephone Company,
                                           Great Plains Communications, Inc.,
                                           Hartington Telecommunications Co., Inc,
                                           Hershey Cooperative Telephone Company,
                                           Inc.
                                           K&M Telephone Company, Inc.,
                                           Nebraska Central Telephone Company,
                                           Northeast Nebraska Telephone Company,
                                           Rock County Telephone Company,
                                           Stanton Telecom Inc., and
                                           Three River Telco
                                           (the “Rural Independent Companies”)

                                           By:    ______________________________
                                                  Paul M. Schudel, No. 13723
                                                  James A. Overcash, No. 18627
                                                  WOODS & AITKEN LLP
                                                  301 South 13th Street, Suite 500
                                                  Lincoln, Nebraska 68508
                                                  (402) 437-8500
                                                  (402) 437-8558 Facsimile
                                                  Their Attorneys

                           CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE

         The original of the foregoing Comments of the Rural Independent Companies was
hand delivered on March 16, 2007, to the Nebraska Public Service Commission, 1200 N
Street, Suite 300, Lincoln, Nebraska 68508, with copies of such Comments mailed by
first class mail, postage prepaid on the same date to:

Nebraska Public Service Commission
Shanicee L. Knutson
300 The Atrium, 1200 N Street
Lincoln, NE 68508

                                                  __________________________
                                                        Paul M. Schudel




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