Articles Posted in Communications Law

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Dobson Telephone Company appealed the Oklahoma Corporation Commission's denial of its application for reimbursement from the Oklahoma Universal Services Fund for expenses incurred when it was ordered by the State Department of Transportation to relocate its telephone lines within the public right-of-way of a State construction project. The issue in this appeal concerned the Commission's legal interpretation of the Oklahoma Universal Service Fund ("OUSF") statute and the alleged arbitrary and capricious denial of funding in violation of the Oklahoma Constitution. In support of its decision to deny Dobson's requested funding, the Commission's majority found that Dobson failed to produce sufficient evidence into the record. Despite acknowledging that its "Administrator was afforded, and took advantage of, the opportunity to perform a 'review of the Application, contractor's invoices, internal invoices, construction drawings, pre-engineering plans, work orders, plans and maps, timesheets, reimbursement checks, contracts, responses to data requests, relevant Oklahoma Statutes,' its own administrative rules regarding the OUSF," the Commission ignored the Administrator's finding that the documents provided by Dobson supported its request for funding. Dobson argued, and the Commission did not dispute, that the Commission's own rules and long-standing practices encouraged applicants to retain its confidential supporting materials on site, making such materials available for review and inspection as needed to support an application. In fact, Commission rule, OAC 165:59-3-72(d), specifically contemplates that "documentation not contained in the public record and not filed in the cause" may nevertheless be "relied upon by the OUSF Administrator in approving or denying an application." The Administrator disclosed that the Commission does not even have procedures in place that would allow it to handle "the responsibility or liability" of receiving such confidential materials. The Oklahoma Supreme Court determined the Commission majority's disapproval of the policy behind the OUSF legislation had no bearing on the validity of an applicant's request for funding. The Court agreed with the dissenting Commissioner that it was the Court's duty to uphold legislation as it was enacted: although the Commission was not bound by the Administrator's recommendation, the Supreme Court found the record reflected ample evidence with which to support the Administrator's determination. The Administrator, as well as the dissenting Commissioner, both agreed Dobson was entitled to reimbursement of the increased costs it incurred as a result of ODOT's mandate to relocate the telephone lines. The Commission's wholesale denial of Dobson's request was in error. View "Dobson Telephone Co. v. Oklahoma Corporation Comm." on Justia Law

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Dobson Telephone Company appealed the Oklahoma Corporation Commission's denial of its application for reimbursement from the Oklahoma Universal Services Fund for expenses incurred when it was ordered by the State Department of Transportation to relocate its telephone lines within the public right-of-way of a State construction project. Dobson made detailed, confidential information regarding the project's costs available for inspection to the Commission's OUSF Administrator. This included information regarding the costs incurred, invoices for engineering, equipment and supplies, and internal employee timesheets and wages. The Administrator reviewed Dobson's application, inspected the confidential information and ultimately approved a reimbursement for Dobson in the amount of $54,766.71. It disallowed $265.83 due to a lack of supporting invoices and/or accounting in Dobson's documents. Various competitor telephone companies objected and filed a Request for Reconsideration. A hearing was held before an ALJ, where the evidence was briefed and summarized, additional testimony was taken, and the objecting parties were permitted to cross-examine witnesses--including the Administrator--and present evidence or argument to the contrary. The ALJ upheld the Administrator's recommendation, agreeing that Dobson was an eligible provider, that the facilities in question were used in the provision of primary universal services, and that the expenses incurred by Dobson were as a result of a state government mandate. Thereafter, the Commission voted, 2-1, to deny Dobson's request. The two-person majority found that Dobson's request was not sufficiently supported by evidence as the confidential information reviewed by its Administrator was not included in the record before the Commission. The Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded that although the Commission was not bound by the Administrator's recommendation, the record reflected ample evidence with which to support the Administrator's determination. The Administrator, as well as the dissenting Commissioner, both agreed Dobson was entitled to reimbursement of the increased costs it incurred as a result of ODOT's mandate to relocate the telephone lines. The Commission's wholesale denial of Dobson's request was in error. View "Dobson Telephone Co. v. Oklahoma ex rel. Oklahoma Corporation Comm." on Justia Law

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Dobson Telephone Company appealed the Oklahoma Corporation Commission's denial of its application for reimbursement from the Oklahoma Universal Services Fund for expenses incurred when it was ordered by the State Department of Transportation to relocate its telephone lines within the public right-of-way of a State construction project. Dobson made detailed, confidential information regarding the project's costs available for inspection to the Commission's Oklahoma Universal Service Fund ("OUSF") Administrator. This included information regarding the costs incurred, invoices for engineering, equipment and supplies, and internal employee timesheets and wages. The Administrator reviewed Dobson's application, inspected the confidential information and ultimately approved a reimbursement for Dobson in the amount of $21,794.27. It disallowed $330.61 due to a lack of supporting invoices. Various competitor telephone companies objected and filed a Request for Reconsideration. A hearing was held before an ALJ, where the evidence was briefed and summarized, additional testimony was taken, and the objecting parties were permitted to cross-examine witnesses--including the Administrator--and present evidence or argument to the contrary. The ALJ upheld the Administrator's recommendation, agreeing that Dobson was an eligible provider, that the facilities in question were used in the provision of primary universal services, and that the expenses incurred by Dobson were as a result of a state government mandate. Thereafter, the Commission voted, 2-1, to deny Dobson's request. The two-person majority found that Dobson's request was not sufficiently supported by evidence as the confidential information reviewed by its Administrator was not included in the record before the Commission. The Commission further determined that Dobson failed to prove that the expenditures at issue were necessary to provide primary universal services at a reasonable and affordable rate. Finally, the Commission stated that it was without sufficient information to determine whether the expenses were incurred only for primary universal services. The Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded that although the Commission was not bound by the Administrator's recommendation, the record reflected ample evidence with which to support the Administrator's determination. The Administrator, as well as the dissenting Commissioner, both agreed Dobson was entitled to reimbursement of the increased costs it incurred as a result of ODOT's mandate to relocate the telephone lines. The Commission's wholesale denial of Dobson's request was in error. View "Dobson Telephone Co. v. Oklahoma ex rel. Oklahoma Corp." on Justia Law

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Dobson Telephone Company appealed the Oklahoma Corporation Commission's denial of its application for reimbursement from the Oklahoma Universal Services Fund for expenses incurred when it was ordered by the State Department of Transportation to relocate its telephone lines within the public right-of-way of a State construction project. Dobson made detailed, confidential information regarding the project's costs available for inspection to the Commission's OUSF Administrator. This included information regarding the costs incurred, invoices for engineering, equipment and supplies, and internal employee timesheets and wages. The Administrator reviewed Dobson's application, inspected the confidential information during multiple on-site visits, and ultimately approved a reimbursement for Dobson in the amount of $95,417.92. A nominal amount of $12.54 was disallowed due to a lack of supporting invoices. Various competitor telephone companies objected and filed a Request for Reconsideration. A hearing was held before an ALJ, where the evidence was briefed and summarized, additional testimony was taken, and the objecting parties were permitted to cross-examine witnesses--including the Administrator--and present evidence or argument to the contrary. The ALJ upheld the Administrator's recommendation, agreeing that Dobson was an eligible provider, that the facilities in question were used in the provision of primary universal services, and that the expenses incurred by Dobson were as a result of a state government mandate. Thereafter, the Commission voted, 2-1, to deny Dobson's request. The two-person majority found that Dobson's request was not sufficiently supported by evidence as the confidential information reviewed by its Administrator was not included in the record before the Commission. The Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded that although the Commission was not bound by the Administrator's recommendation, the record reflected ample evidence with which to support the Administrator's determination. The Administrator, as well as the dissenting Commissioner, both agreed Dobson was entitled to reimbursement of the increased costs it incurred as a result of ODOT's mandate to relocate the telephone lines. The Commission's wholesale denial of Dobson's request was in error. View "Dobson Telephone Co v. Oklahoma ex rel. Oklahoma Corporation Comm." on Justia Law

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Medicine Park Telephone Company appeals the Oklahoma Corporation Commission's denial of its application for reimbursement from the Oklahoma Universal Services Fund for reasonable investments and expenses incurred in providing primary universal service to its customers. The FCC created the Interstate Common Line Support (ICLS) program, which was paid from the federal Universal Service Fund. ICLS was available to, among others, rural incumbent carriers and was designed to help such carriers recoup some of the high fixed costs of providing telephone service in areas with fewer customers while also ensuring that their subscriber line charges remained affordable to their customers. Effective January 1, 2012, the FCC changed its rules to limit the operations expenses that may be included in an ICLS calculation. The FCC did not, however, eliminate the legal requirement that Medicine Park and other carriers of last resort continue to provide such services. After its federal ICLS support was eliminated by FCC order, Medicine Park submitted an application for reimbursement to recover $60,707.00 for 2014 and $5,058.92 per month beginning January 2015. The PUD Administrator conducted a thorough review of Medicine Park's application and ultimately recommended approval of the amounts as requested. Various other telecommunications companies, including Sprint, Virgin Mobile, and Verizon, requested denial of any reimbursement. Despite the ALJ's recommendation, the Commission issued an order denying Medicine Park's request for reimbursement. The Commission concluded that there was no dispute that Medicine Park was an eligible service provider qualified for reimbursement, or that it had suffered a reduction in federal universal service fund revenues as a result of the FCC order to eliminate the ICLS. Nevertheless, the Commission ruled that Medicine Park could not recover any funding because the company had made the confidential and proprietary information supporting its application available for onsite review, rather than filing it with the Commission as a matter of public record. Additionally, the Commission would not issue the reimbursement because Medicine Park "failed to prove, and no determination was made as to, whether Medicine Park's rates for primary universal services are reasonable and affordable," or "that the requested funding is necessary to enable Medicine Park to provide primary universal services at rates that are reasonable and affordable." The Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded that although the Commission was not bound by the Administrator's recommendation, the record reflected ample evidence with which to support the Administrator's determination. The Administrator, as well as the dissenting Commissioner, both agreed Medicine Park was entitled to reimbursement of the losses it incurred as a result of the FCC order decreasing federal funding. The Commission's wholesale denial of Medicine Park's request was in error. The Commission's wholesale denial of Dobson's request was in error. View "Medicine Park Telephone Co. v. Oklahoma Corporation Comm." on Justia Law

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Medicine Park Telephone Company appeals the Oklahoma Corporation Commission's denial of its application for reimbursement from the Oklahoma Universal Services Fund for reasonable investments and expenses incurred in providing primary universal service to its customers. The FCC created the Interstate Common Line Support (ICLS) program, which was paid from the federal Universal Service Fund. ICLS was available to, among others, rural incumbent carriers and was designed to help such carriers recoup some of the high fixed costs of providing telephone service in areas with fewer customers while also ensuring that their subscriber line charges remained affordable to their customers. Effective January 1, 2012, the FCC changed its rules to limit the operations expenses that may be included in an ICLS calculation. The FCC did not, however, eliminate the legal requirement that Medicine Park and other carriers of last resort continue to provide such services. After its federal ICLS support was eliminated by FCC order, Medicine Park submitted an application for reimbursement to recover losses because of its mandate. The PUD Administrator conducted a thorough review of Medicine Park's application. He ultimately recommended approval of $102,629 for the year 2014 and $8,552.42 per month thereafter, having disallowed $419.00 of the requested lump sum and $1.58 from the requested monthly recurring amount due to a lack of supporting documentation. Various other telecommunications companies, including Sprint, Virgin Mobile, and Verizon requested denial of any reimbursement. Despite the ALJ's recommendation, the Commission issued an order denying Medicine Park's request for reimbursement. The Commission concluded that there was no dispute that Medicine Park was an eligible service provider qualified for reimbursement, or that it had suffered a reduction in federal universal service fund revenues as a result of the FCC order to eliminate the LSS. Nevertheless, the Commission ruled that Medicine Park was not entitled to any funding because the company had made the confidential and proprietary information supporting its application available for onsite review, rather than filing it with the Commission as a matter of public record. Although the Commission was not bound by the Administrator's recommendation, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found the record reflected ample evidence with which to support the Administrator's determination. The Administrator, as well as the dissenting Commissioner, both agreed Medicine Park was entitled to reimbursement of the losses it incurred as a result of the FCC order decreasing federal funding. The Commission's wholesale denial of Medicine Park's request was in error. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the order of the Commission and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Medicine Park Telephone Co. v. Oklahoma Corporation Comm." on Justia Law

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Medicine Park Telephone Company appeals the Oklahoma Corporation Commission's denial of its application for reimbursement from the Oklahoma Universal Services Fund for reasonable investments and expenses incurred in providing primary universal service to its customers. The FCC created the Interstate Common Line Support (ICLS) program, which was paid from the federal Universal Service Fund. ICLS was available to, among others, rural incumbent carriers and was designed to help such carriers recoup some of the high fixed costs of providing telephone service in areas with fewer customers while also ensuring that their subscriber line charges remained affordable to their customers. Effective January 1, 2012, the FCC changed its rules to limit the operations expenses that may be included in an ICLS calculation. The FCC did not, however, eliminate the legal requirement that Medicine Park and other carriers of last resort continue to provide such services. After its federal ICLS support was eliminated by FCC order, Medicine Park submitted an application for reimbursement to recover losses because of its mandate; he PUD Administrator ultimately recommended that Medicine Park receive a lump-sum payment of $309,016.90 for calendar year 2014, and monthly recurring payments of $25,751.41, to begin January 1, 2015. Despite the recommendation from the PUD Administrator and the outside consulting firm independently hired by PUD to assist in the process, the Commission rejected the Administrator's final determination. By a vote of 2-1, following a two-day hearing on the merits, the Commission denied Medicine Park's application in full. The Commission found that Medicine Park included requests for reimbursement of expenses and investments that were not incurred entirely for the provision of primary universal services, that the Administrator did not determine whether Medicine Park's rates for primary universal services were reasonable and affordable, that the company did not seek alternative funding, and that recurring funding should not be awarded. Although the Commission was not bound by the Administrator's recommendation, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found the record reflected ample evidence with which to support the Administrator's determination. The Administrator, the independent expert hired by PUD to provide a neutral investigation, and one dissenting Commissioner all agreed that Medicine Park was entitled to funding, albeit at a reduced rate of its initial request. The Commission's wholesale denial of any funding was in error. View "Medicine Park Telephone Co. v. Oklahoma Corporation Comm." on Justia Law

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Appellants ("Customers") requested the Oklahoma Supreme Court reverse the Oklahoma Corporation Commission's ("Commission") Order Dismissing Cause and remand the underlying application to the Commission for a full hearing. Appellants were a group of six different individuals who were customers of the Defendant, Southwestern Bell Telephone d/b/a AT&T Oklahoma ("SWBT"). Customers filed their Application in 2015, asking the Commission to vacate or modify PUD 260 entered in 1989 in order "to redress the proven bribery and corruption perpetrated by Southwestern Bell Telephone Company [SWBT] that occurred in 1989 in relation to Oklahoma Corporation Commission's . . . Cause No. PUD (Public Utility Docket) 860000260 ("PUD 260")." The then-acting public utility division director for the Commission, initiated PUD 260 to determine how SWBT should distribute or utilize SWBT's surplus cash created by federal corporate tax reforms. Two of the three Commissioners approved the 1989 Order wherein it was determined that SWBT surplus revenue should not be refunded to its ratepayers. Commissioner Hopkins ("Hopkins"), was one of the two commissioners who voted in favor of the 1989 Order. Several years after the adoption of this Order, the public learned that Hopkins had accepted a bribe in exchange for assuring his favorable vote to the 1989 Order. Hopkins was indicted in 1993 and then later convicted for his criminal act. Commissioner Anthony announced in 1992 that he had been secretly acting as an investigator and informant in an ongoing FBI investigation concerning the conduct of his fellow commissioners and of SWBT. Following Hopkins' conviction, in 1997, Anthony, pro se, filed a document titled "Suggestion to the Court," advising the Supreme Court of the criminal misconduct of Hopkins and asked it Court to recall its mandate issued in Henry v. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., 825 P.2d 1305. The Supreme Court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The case was remanded back to the Commission which determined the matter should be closed in its entirety. The Commission's order was not appealed. In January 2010, Anthony again filed a "Suggestion for Sua Sponte Recall of Mandate, Vacation of Opinion, and Remand of Cause to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission for Want of Appellate Jurisdiction with Brief in Support of Suggested Actions." The Oklahoma Supreme Court found it was bound to uphold the findings and conclusion of the Commission where they are "sustained by the law and substantial evidence." The Commission's Order Dismissing Cause contained overwhelming evidence and legal authority supporting its Order. The Order Dismissing Cause, Order No. 655899 was thus affirmed. View "Clements v. Southwestern Bell Telephone" on Justia Law

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In 2014, a Norman restaurant's surveillance video captured an incident depicting Joe Mixon striking a woman. The Norman Police Department (Department) was called to the location, investigated, and obtained and reviewed the surveillance video. On Friday, August 15, 2014, a Department detective filed an affidavit of probable cause seeking an arrest warrant for Mixon. The detective stated probable cause existed based on interviews completed by other officers, injuries sustained by the victim, and the surveillance video of the incident which he described in detail. The same day, the Cleveland County District Attorney filed a criminal information, referencing the same incident number as the probable cause affidavit and alleging that Mixon committed the misdemeanor crime of Acts Resulting in Gross Injury when he struck the female. Mixon voluntarily appeared in district court to answer the charge and was arraigned. At the same time, the district court ordered Mixon to be processed by the Cleveland County Sheriff's Department and to remain in custody pending his posting a bond. KWTV News 9, a member of the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters (Association), requested a copy of the surveillance video from Department and District Attorney, referencing the Open Records Act. The Norman City Attorney emailed KWTV News 9 that, barring changes, such as the judge ordering the video sealed, he did "not know of a reason why [Department] would not be willing to make copies of the Mixon video available for public inspection and copying after November 1." Without furnishing copies of the video, the Department allowed KWTV News 9 and other media to view the video. Association was not present at this viewing. Mixon entered an Alford Plea to the criminal charge. The same day, Association made a request under the Act for a copy of the surveillance video from the City and the Department and KWTV News 9 renewed its request. District Attorney responded, informing Association that it no longer had the video as it had given the video to the victim. City told KWTV News 9 that Department had delivered a copy of the video to the City Attorney, who placed it in a litigation file. The Association filed petition for declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and mandamus. Defendants filed motions to dismiss. The district court granted the motion. Plaintiff appealed. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the proceedings. The Supreme Court concluded that the Association was entitled to judgment as a matter of law and entitled to a writ of mandamus. The video was ordered to be a part of the court record and preserved by the attorneys. The Defendants had to allow the Association a copy of the surveillance video. View "Oklahoma Assoc. of Broadcasters, Inc. v. City of Norman" on Justia Law

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Initiative Petition No. 403 sought to amend the Oklahoma Constitution by adding a new Article 13-C. The proposed article would create the Oklahoma Education Improvement Fund, designed to provide for the improvement of public education in Oklahoma through an additional one-cent sales and use tax. Funds generated by the one-cent tax would be distributed to public school districts, higher education institutions, career and technology centers, and early childhood education providers for certain educational purposes outlined in the proposed article. Additionally, a percentage of the funds would be used to provide a $5,000.00 pay raise to all public school teachers. Opponents challenged the initiative, arguing it violated the one general subject rule of Art. 24, sec. 1 of the Oklahoma Constitution. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that Initiative Petition No. 403 did not violate the one general subject rule and was legally sufficient for submission to the people of Oklahoma. View "IN RE INITIATIVE PETITION NO. 403 STATE QUESTION NO. 779" on Justia Law