E Fiber to Grand, San Juan Counties Stunted by Public Service Commission

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In April 2020, Emery Telcom, through two newly-formed subsidiaries, E Fiber Moab, LLC and E Fiber San Juan, LLC, filed an application for Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to allow them to be a rate-of-return regulated telephone company in the counties of Grand and San Juan. This would have allowed Emery Telcom to be a regulated telephone company in the counties and allowed access to the Utah Universal Service Fund to help build out a state-of-the-art telecommunications network to the residents in the counties. Normally, such an application is reviewed by the Utah Public Service Commission to determine if the entry is in the “public interest.”

On Wednesday, the Utah Public Service Commission denied the E Fiber applications, which will prevent the widespread build out of fiber in Grand and San Juan counties. The Utah Public Service Commission did not rule on whether it would be in the public interest, but instead denied the application based upon a statute passed in 2012 to prevent the regulation of Internet based VoIP providers like Vonage, U.C.A. 54-19-102. This was in spite of the fact that the legislature recently passed U.C.A. 54-8B-15, which actually provided for the funding of networks like the one proposed by the E Fiber entities, and the fact that the National Exchange Carrier Association has determined that such service is regulated phone service on the federal side.

“Last week was a bad decision for the residents of Grand and San Juan counties,” stated Brock Johansen, CEO of Emery Telcom. “The PSC has multiple complaints and a proceeding against the current telecom provider, and the E Fiber entities would have given the residents a competitive choice as new providers in the area. The legislatures and regulators asked Emery Telcom to come up with a solution. We fought for almost a full year to be allowed to come into the area and have access to the Utah State Universal Fund to help build out a better network in the area, but the decision by the PSC will hinder that.”

Emery Telcom, through its subsidiaries, does have federal funding to build out networks in the communities of Castle Valley, La Sal, Mexican Hat, Eastland, and other areas in Grand and San Juan counties. It is also just completing a fiber-to-the-home build in the town of Bluff.

“I disagreed with the PSC’s analysis of the law and the facts. However, the rural telecom providers were told by the legislature that the VoIP and IP Enabled statute would not apply to our facility-based services,” Johansen said. I hope that the legislature will remedy the situation and the PSC’s interpretation. These fiber facilities are needed for the communities to compete from an economic and educational standpoint.”

Emery Telcom has not decided how to proceed, but will continue to look at ways to serve the residents in Southeastern Utah. It is unclear how the PSC is going to deal with the current proceeding dealing with service issues in Grand and San Juan counties.

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