Friday, February 1, 2013

Wisconsin CALLS and Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association Echo TW Telecom's 2011 Request for Audit of Universal Service Fund

A letter from Wisconsin CALLS and the Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association (see Exhibit B below) asks Governor Walker to (1) require annual audits and (2) replace the source of revenue for non-Public Service Commission (PSC) Universal Service Fund (USF) programs.

This is obviously a matter of concern to the library community, one which we will continue to follow closely, as these statewide library programs are funded through the USF, a segregated revenue fund.
  • Public library systems
  • BadgerLink
  • Resource contracts:  Wisconsin Talking Book and Braille Library, Cooperative Children's Book Center, WiLS (Wisconsin Interlibrary Services), Milwaukee Public Library interloan.
  • Newsline for the Blind

SIDEBAR:  Where does the money come from?

The Wisconsin Budget Project provides this general overview of revenue sources, using the 2009-11 state budget as an example.

Our position on the Universal Service Fund and Statewide Library Service is as follows.  (Issue paper, which will be included in Tuesday Library Legislative Day packet, is found here.)

The Wisconsin Library Association (WLA) and the Wisconsin Education Media & Technology Association (WEMTA) support providing a Universal Service Fund appropriation to fund specific library services, as set forth in chapter 196 of the Wisconsin State Statutes.

In addition, WLA and WEMTA believe that the Universal Service Fund is an equitable and sustainable source of funding that supports a critical network of statewide library services.

SIDEBAR:  Here are the 6 general steps in legislative audit process in Wisconsin

1. Request to Joint Legislative Audit Committee.
2. Committee directs the Legislative Audit Bureau to conduct an audit. (Decided on a case-by-case basis.)
3. Legislative Audit Bureau conducts audit.
4. Report submitted to committee.
5. Committee conducts public hearings.
6. Committee introduces legislation, if it chooses to do so.

You'll note that the Wisconsin CALLS/WSTA letter omits step 1 and directly asks the Governor to require a Legislative Audit Bureau review of USF.

In the event of an audit, it will be critical for us to provide the framework for a positive discussion e.g., emphasizing the larger issue of the multiple benefits that accrue to Wisconsin residents through these programs rather than focusing on the smaller issue of how these programs are funded.

As indicated by the steps listed above, there will be sufficient time to work the Legislative Audit Bureau staff and members of the Joint Legislature Audit Committee during the period of time when the USF is under review.

This is not the first time the issue of USF funding has been raised.

On November 30, 2011, Pamela H. Sherwood, TW Telecom's Vice President of Regulatory, sent a letter to State Senator Robert Cowles and Assembly Representative Samantha Kerkman [see Exhibit A found below] to urge the Joint Committee on Audit exercise oversight over the programs funded through the Wisconsin Universal Service Fund.  (USF)

Ms. Sherwood listed the following as non-Public Service Commission (PSC) programs:
  1. Department of Administration Teach program
  2. BadgerLink
  3. Aid to public library systems
  4. UW System BadgerNet Access Program

Then, as now, Cowles and Kerkman serve as co-chairs of this committee.  At that time, the committee chose not to direct the Legislature Audit Bureau to conduct a review of any of these 4 specific programs

On January 30, 2013, using some of the same language in the Sherwood letter, Wisconsin CALLS and the Wisconsin State Telecommunication Association (WSTA) sent a letter to Governor Walker [see Exhibit B below] requesting that two items be included in the 2013-15 biennial budget.
  1. Require the Legislative Audit Bureau to annually conduct a financial and performance evaluation of at least one non-PSC USF-funded program.
  2. Reduce state aid to libraries funded by the Universal Service Fund by 20% per year for the next five years.  (With a "glidepath" to shift funding to General Purpose Revenue -- GPR.  As you might well imagine, this suggestion is easier said than done.)

Wisconsin Calls and WSTA list the following as non-Public Service Commission (PSC) programs:
  1. Department of Administration Teach program
  2. BadgerLink
  3. Aid to public library systems
  4. UW System BadgerNet Access Program

Highlights indicate identical sections of letters.


Related post:
The Legislative Audit Process in Wisconsin:  USF Case Study in the Making?  (12/1/2011)

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