The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin is holding their biennial review of the Universal Service Fund rules in the Wis. Admin. Code ch. PSC 160 1-AC-1666.
If you have applied for the Telecommunications Equipment Purchase Program (TEPP), you know that the value of the vouchers can range from $200 to $6,700 depending on the type of disability being accommodated. The rules governing this funding as well as other programs under the Universal Service Fund are under consideration at this hearing.
If you have any objections, suggestions on the proposed rules of the fund or how the fund should be allocated, please write to the Public Service Commission by June 18, 1999.
For all the necessary information for contacting, writing or faxing the PSC of Wisconsin or if you have questions or need to receive information in an alternative format, see the NHU PSC editorial.
This article contains the recommendations from the letter NHU sent to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin in support of and recommending changes to the Universal Service Fund.
The NHU letter was sent to Lynda L. Dorr, Secretary to the Commission, Public Service Commission.
Regarding: Official Filing Docket 1-AC-166 before the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin - Biennial Review of Universal Service Fund Rules in Wisconsin Admin. Code Ch. PSC 160
New Horizons Un-Limited Inc., is a nonprofit organization committed to promoting communication and providing information services to empower people between the ages 19-55 who have life long disabilities.
NHU was founded with the intent to assist individuals whose life long disabilities have tended to isolate them from the community and therefore from information and services that might otherwise reduce their isolation, enhance their lives and allow them to move closer in some degree towards independent living. One of the ways in which we aim to promote a shift in attitude is by encouraging the interchange of information between persons with disabilities. We intend to carry this out via the Internet. Unlike other services, our focus is to empower the individual towards independence by providing information on how they can take the steps themselves to obtain these resources.
We have developed a website on the Internet to disseminate information, provide guides and enhance communication to empower people who have life long disabilities.
We feel people with disabilities need access to information about the community in which they live. In addition, the community needs access to people with disabilities to determine and understand their needs. These two very simple steps are absolutely essential before any other programs for people with disabilities can be effective.
Freedom of speech and freedom of information are basic rights. People with disabilities are under served and denied these freedoms due to their life long disabilities that tend to isolate them from the community and therefore from information and services that might otherwise reduce their isolation and enhance their lives.
Without the means of communication and access to the community, people become isolated from their community. This under served group includes people with life long disabilities between the ages of 19-55 who are nonworking, low income, isolated by their disability in their homes. Up to the age of 18, most disabled individuals are served by schools and community programs. Over the age 55, there are laws providing programs for the elderly that include the disabled elderly. These programs offer access to the community and information services that include access to the Internet and training. Until now, there are no laws to provide for communication and access to information services for people with disabilities ages 19 to 55. Such programs, if they could exist, would offer to individuals with disabilities access to resources, information and communication, to empower them with a sense of community and companionship. Most of these individuals live their lives at home in isolation, overwhelmed by the task of survival, many unable to communicate with the rest of society.
Market research has proven that as people with disabilities are becoming increasingly more able to participate in electronic communication services, they have been able to access a world far from their usual daily encounter in life. Further, that these communication services have become a source of empowerment. Often prohibited from entering the mainstream of society, electronic communication permits people with disabilities the possibility of mainstream participation.
Accessing the information of our community is very important when faced by health or physical challenges. We recognize that when one is challenged, (for people with disabilities, problems may be overwhelming), we first try to seek help for ourselves; we ask a trusted friend, a colleague, a person we know who has already had the same experience, a professional, or an organization for advice and information. We seek education and training from the resources to find solutions. This is using the information our community has to offer and it saves time and energy for the individual. This opportunity is not readily accessible to the person with a disability.
Disappointing is the fact that most assistive technology is not aimed at information retrieval, education or community exchange but instead on daily living skills, which for the disabled only amounts to survival and not the communication needed to prevail.
Most importantly for those who are on the periphery of the community, electronic communication provides the voice needed to interact. This could not only unburden them from everyday survival, but also encourage proliferation of ideas and community involvement. When someone is able to become a contributing member, many of the mental, physical frustrations no longer become debilitating.
In 1996, the Public Service Commission created a set of universal service programs to provide access to telecommunications service to all Wisconsin customers regardless of geographic location, income or disability; to promote the use of advanced services by schools, libraries and health care institutions; and to assist in the deployment of advanced services in all areas of the state. The TEPP fund helps people with disabilities purchase equipment necessary for access to essential, basic telephone service. TEPP is available if one needs special equipment to use a telephone in one’s own home and is available only for home use.
We commend the Universal Service Fund which provides for telecommunications and access to information services for the person with disabilities ages 19 to 55. This is an exceptional program for people with disabilities.
We commend the commission for reaching out to the thousands of people who live in isolation in their homes who may benefit by this fund.
There are two reasons why this is an exceptional program:
We are asking the Public Service Commission to be sure to include in the Universal Service Fund rules the support of funding for projects and programs that promote affordable access to telecommunications and information services for this under served group, people with disabilities.
To include under telecommunications and information services, “essential services,” those services attainable quite affordably through the use of computers, modems, Internet service providers and the Internet, the funding and programs that promote affordable access and training to these services for this under served group, people with disabilities. This change is consistent with the purposes identified in s. 196.218(5)(a)1. to 3. Statutes. Those statutes read as follows:
(5) Uses of the fund.
(a) The commission shall require that moneys in the universal service fund be used only for any of the following purposes:
However, we take issue with the Universal Service Fund. The Universal Service Fund must include the disabled in the last two statements of these statutes.
2. To assist in the deployment of advanced service capabilities of a modern telecommunications infrastructure throughout this state.
3. To promote affordable access throughout this state to high-quality education, library and health care information services.
These rules imply that they are promoting advanced telecommunications use to all those in the state of Wisconsin, but these rules are limited to those who can access those services.
This purpose is discriminatory to the thousands of people who are severely disabled and live in isolation in their own home. We ask that you extend and promote advanced services to the disabled as well who will not be able to access the benefit of advanced telecommunications the fund is committing to the schools, libraries and health care institutions. Through the use of the Internet, the person with disabilities will be able to access schools, libraries and health care institutions.
We understand that the Governor has transferred two (2) million dollars to allocate to schools, libraries, health care institutions through the TEACH program. People with disabilities are going to continue to be under served, if we do not take steps now to include them in items 2 and 3 of the statute.
Therefore we support the following changes to the Universal Service Fund:
(a) Determine qualifying requirement on the basis of need.
Include under “essential services:” Internet service, computers, modems, etc.
(b) Raising the voucher limits on amounts.
(c) Waive voucher co-payment.
(f) Base the limit on number of vouchers per household on need rather than on disability.
3. PSC 160.125
Partially fund programs or projects by nonprofit groups to inform, educate and train people with disabilities about access and use of the Universal Service Fund, its existence, purpose, intent and areas of use and to educate and inform Wisconsin citizens about its programs, including TEPP.
Partially fund programs or projects by nonprofit groups to include under telecommunications and information services, “essential services,” those services attainable quite affordably through the use of computers, modems, Internet service providers and the Internet, the funding and programs that promote affordable access to these services for this under served group, people with disabilities.
Partially fund programs or projects by nonprofit groups that will offer access to promote affordable access to high quality education, library and health care information services in accordance with the statutes, through the use of computers, modems, Internet service providers and the Internet.
Continue to include people with disabilities in the use of this fund.
Basic interchange of information must occur if any programs are to be of assistance to people with disabilities. Without a basic exchange of information, this group will continue to be under served.
Thank you for your support and consideration!
NEW HORIZONS UN-LIMITED INC.
You can view the changes under consideration by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin for their Biennial Review of the Universal Service Fund Rules in Wis. Admin. Code ch. PSC 160 at (this link is no longer available)PSC.
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