62-133.5.  Alternative regulation, tariffing, and deregulation of telecommunications utilities.

(a)        Any local exchange company, subject to the provisions of G.S. 62-110(f1), that is subject to rate of return regulation pursuant to G.S. 62-133 or a form of alternative regulation authorized by subsection (b) of this section may elect to have the rates, terms, and conditions of its services determined pursuant to a form of price regulation, rather than rate of return or other form of earnings regulation. Under this form of price regulation, the Commission shall, among other things, permit the local exchange company to determine and set its own depreciation rates, to rebalance its rates, and to adjust its prices in the aggregate, or to adjust its prices for various aggregated categories of services, based upon changes in generally accepted indices of prices. Upon application, the Commission shall, after notice and an opportunity for interested parties to be heard, approve such price regulation, which may differ between local exchange companies, upon finding that the plan as proposed (i) protects the affordability of basic local exchange service, as such service is defined by the Commission; (ii) reasonably assures the continuation of basic local exchange service that meets reasonable service standards that the Commission may adopt; (iii) will not unreasonably prejudice any class of telephone customers, including telecommunications companies; and (iv) is otherwise consistent with the public interest. Upon approval, and except as provided in subsection (c) of this section, price regulation shall thereafter be the sole form of regulation imposed upon the electing local exchange company, and the Commission shall thenceforth regulate the electing local exchange company's prices, rather than its earnings. The Commission shall issue an order denying or approving the proposed plan for price regulation, with or without modification, not more than 90 days from the filing of the application. However, the Commission may extend the time period for an additional 90 days at the discretion of the Commission. If the Commission approves the application with modifications, the local exchange company subject to such approval may accept the modifications and implement the proposed plan as modified, or may, at its option, (i) withdraw its application and continue to be regulated under the form of regulation that existed immediately prior to the filing of the application; (ii) file another proposed plan for price regulation; or (iii) file an application for a form of alternative regulation under subsection (b) of this section. If the initial price regulation plan is approved with modifications and the local exchange company files another plan pursuant to part (ii) of the previous sentence, the Commission shall issue an order denying or approving the proposed plan for price regulation, with or without modifications, not more than 90 days from that filing by the local exchange company.

(b)        Any local exchange company that is subject to rate of return regulation pursuant to G.S. 62-133 and which elects not to file for price regulation under the provisions of subsection (a) above may file an application with the Commission for forms of alternative regulation, which may differ between companies and may include, but are not limited to, ranges of authorized returns, categories of services, and price indexing. Upon application, the Commission shall approve such alternative regulatory plan upon finding that the plan as proposed (i) protects the affordability of basic local exchange service, as such service is defined by the Commission; (ii) reasonably assures the continuation of basic local exchange service that meets reasonable service standards established by the Commission; (iii) will not unreasonably prejudice any class of telephone customers, including telecommunications companies; and (iv) is otherwise consistent with the public interest. The Commission shall issue an order denying or approving the proposed plan with or without modification, not more than 90 days from the filing of the application. However, the Commission may extend the time period for an additional 90 days at the discretion of the Commission. If the Commission approves the application with modifications, the local exchange company subject to such approval may, at its option, accept the modifications and implement the proposed plan as modified or may, at its option, (i) withdraw its application and continue to be regulated under the form of regulation that existed at the time of filing the application; or (ii) file an application for another form of alternative regulation. If the initial plan is approved with modifications and the local exchange company files another plan pursuant to part (ii) of the previous sentence, the Commission shall issue an order denying or approving the proposed plan, with or without modifications, not more than 90 days from that filing by the local exchange company.

(c)        Any local exchange company subject to price regulation under the provisions of subsection (a) of this section may file an application with the Commission to modify such form of price regulation or for other forms of regulation. Any local exchange company subject to a form of alternative regulation under subsection (b) of this section may file an application with the Commission to modify such form of alternative regulation. Upon application, the Commission shall approve such other form of regulation upon finding that the plan as proposed (i) protects the affordability of basic local exchange service, as such service is defined by the Commission; (ii) reasonably assures the continuation of basic local exchange service that meets reasonable service standards established by the Commission; (iii) will not unreasonably prejudice any class of telephone customers, including telecommunications companies; and (iv) is otherwise consistent with the public interest. If the Commission disapproves, in whole or in part, a local exchange company's application to modify its existing form of price regulation, the company may elect to continue to operate under its then existing plan previously approved under this subsection or subsection (a) of this section.

(c1)      In determining whether a price regulation plan is otherwise consistent with the public interest, the Commission shall not consider the local exchange company's past or present earnings or rates of return.

(d)       Any local exchange company subject to price regulation under the provisions of subsection (a) of this section, or other alternative regulation under subsection (b) of this section, or other form of regulation under subsection (c) of this section shall file tariffs for basic local exchange service and toll switched access services stating the terms and conditions of the services and the applicable rates. However, fees charged by such local exchange companies applicable to charges for returned checks shall not be tariffed or otherwise regulated by the Commission. The filing of any tariff changing the terms and conditions of such services or increasing the rates for such services shall be presumed valid and shall become effective, unless otherwise suspended by the Commission for a term not to exceed 45 days, 14 days after filing. Any tariff reducing rates for basic local exchange service or toll switched access service shall be presumed valid and shall become effective, unless otherwise suspended by the Commission for a term not to exceed 45 days, seven days after filing. Any local exchange company subject to price regulation under the provisions of subsection (a) of this section, or other alternative regulation under subsection (b) of this section, or other form of regulation under subsection (c) of this section may file tariffs for services other than basic local exchange services and toll switched access services. Any tariff changing the terms and conditions of such services or increasing the rates for an existing service or establishing the terms, conditions, or rates for a new service shall be presumed valid and shall become effective, unless otherwise suspended by the Commission for a term not to exceed 45 days, 14 days after filing. Any tariff reducing the rates for such services shall be presumed valid and shall become effective, unless otherwise suspended by the Commission for a term not to exceed 45 days, seven days after filing. In the event of a complaint with regard to a tariff filing under this subsection, the Commission may take such steps as it deems appropriate to assure that such tariff filing is consistent with the plan previously adopted pursuant to subsection (a) of this section, subsection (b) of this section, or subsection (c) of this section.

(e)        Any allegation of anticompetitive activity by a competing local provider or a local exchange company shall be raised in a complaint proceeding pursuant to G.S. 62-73.

(f)        Notwithstanding the provisions of G.S. 62-140, or any Commission rule or regulations: (i) the Commission shall permit a local exchange company or a competing local provider to offer competitive services with flexible pricing arrangements to business customers pursuant to contract and shall permit other flexible pricing options; and (ii) local exchange companies and competing local providers may provide a promotional offering for any tariffed service or tariffed offering by giving one day's notice to the Commission, but no Commission approval of the notice is required. Promotional offerings of any nontariffed service may be implemented without notice to the Commission or Commission approval. Carriers offering promotions of regulated services that are available for resale must provide a means for interested parties to receive notice of each promotional offering of regulated service, including the duration of the offering, at least one business day prior to the effective date of the promotional offering. Furthermore, local exchange companies and competing local providers may offer special promotions and bundles of new or existing service or products without the obligation to identify or convert existing customers who subscribe to the same or similar services or products. The Commission's complaint authority under G.S. 62-73 and subsection (e) of this section is applicable to any promotion or bundled service offering filed or offered under this subsection.

(g)        The following sections of Chapter 62 of the General Statutes shall not apply to local exchange companies subject to price regulation under the terms of subsection (a) of this section or electing companies subject to alternative regulation under the terms of subsection (h) or (m) of this section: G.S. 62-35(c), 62-45, 62-51, 62-81, 62-111, 62-130, 62-131, 62-132, 62-133, 62-134, 62-135, 62-136, 62-137, 62-139, 62-142, and 62-153.

(h)        Notwithstanding any other provision of this Chapter, a local exchange company that is subject to rate of return regulation or subject to another form of regulation authorized under this section and whose territory is open to competition from competing local providers may elect to have its rates, terms, and conditions for its services determined pursuant to the plan described in this subsection by filing notice of its intent to do so with the Commission. The election is effective immediately upon filing. A local exchange company shall not be permitted to make the election under this section unless it commits to provide stand-alone basic residential lines to rural customers at rates that are less than or comparable to those rates charged to urban customers for the same service.

(1)        Definitions. - The following definitions apply in this subsection:

a.         Local exchange company. - The same meaning as provided in G.S. 62-3(16a).

b.         Open to competition from competing local providers. - Both of the following apply:

1.         G.S. 62-110(f1) applies to the franchised area and to local exchange and exchange access services offered by the local exchange company.

2.         The local exchange company is open to interconnection with competing local providers that possess a certificate of public convenience and necessity issued by the Commission. The Commission is authorized to resolve any disputes concerning whether a local exchange company is open to interconnection under this section.

c.         Single-line basic residential service. - Single-line residential flat rate basic voice grade local service with touch tone within a traditional local calling area that provides access to available emergency services and directory assistance, the capability to access interconnecting carriers, relay services, access to operator services, and one annual local directory listing (white pages or the equivalent).

d.         Stand-alone basic residential line. - Single-line basic residential service that is billed on a billing account that does not also contain another service, feature, or product that is sold by the local exchange company or an affiliate of the local exchange company and is billed on a recurring basis on the local exchange company's bill.

(2)        Beginning on the date that the local exchange company's election under this subsection becomes effective, the local exchange company shall continue to offer stand-alone basic residential lines to all customers who choose to subscribe to that service, and the local exchange company may increase rates for those lines annually by a percentage that does not exceed the percentage increase over the prior year in the Gross Domestic Product Price Index as reported by the United States Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, unless otherwise authorized by the Commission. With the sole exception of ensuring the local exchange company's compliance with the preceding sentence, the Commission shall not:

a.         Impose any requirements related to the terms, conditions, rates, or availability of any of the local exchange company's stand-alone basic residential lines.

b.         Otherwise regulate any of the local exchange company's stand-alone basic residential lines.

(3)        Except to the extent provided in subdivision (2) of this subsection, beginning on the date the local exchange company's election under this subsection becomes effective, the Commission shall not do any of the following:

a.         Impose any requirements related to the terms, conditions, rates, or availability of any of the local exchange company's retail services.

b.         Otherwise regulate any of the local exchange company's retail services.

c.         Impose any tariffing requirements on any of the local exchange company's services that were not tariffed as of the date of the election; or impose any constraints on the rates of the local exchange company's services that were subject to full pricing flexibility as of the date of election.

(4)        A local exchange company's election under this subsection does not affect the obligations or rights of an incumbent local exchange carrier, as that term is defined by section 251(h) of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 (Act), under sections 251 and 252 of the Act or any Federal Communications Commission regulation relating to sections 251 and 252 of the Act, nor does it affect any authority of the Commission to act in accordance with federal or State laws or regulations, including those granting authority to set rates, terms, and conditions for access to unbundled network elements and to arbitrate and enforce interconnection agreements.

(5)        A local exchange company's election under this subsection does not prevent a consumer from seeking the assistance of the Public Staff of the North Carolina Utilities Commission to resolve a complaint with that local exchange company, as provided in G.S. 62-73.1.

(6)        A local exchange company's election under this subsection does not affect the Commission's jurisdiction concerning the following:

a.         Enforce federal requirements on the local exchange company's marketing activities. However, the Commission may not adopt, impose, or enforce other requirements on the local exchange company's marketing activities.

b.         The telecommunications relay service pursuant to G.S. 62-157.

c.         The Life Line or Link Up programs consistent with Federal Communications Commission rules, including, but not limited to, 47 C.F.R. 54.403(a)(3), as amended from time to time, and relevant orders of the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

d.         Universal service funding pursuant to G.S. 62-110(f1).

e.         Carrier of last resort obligations pursuant to G.S. 62-110.

f.          The authority delegated to it by the Federal Communications Commission to manage the numbering resources involving that local exchange company.

g.         Regulatory authority over the rates, terms, and conditions of wholesale services.

(i)         A competing local provider authorized by the Commission to do business under the provisions of G.S. 62-110(f1) may also elect to have its rates, terms, and conditions for its services determined pursuant to the plans described in subsection (h) or (m) of this section. However, it is provided further that any provisions of subsection (h) of this section requiring the provision of a specific retail service or impacting the pricing of such service, including stand-alone residence service, shall not apply to competing local providers.

(j)         Notwithstanding any other provision of this Chapter, the Commission has jurisdiction over matters concerning switched access and intercarrier compensation of a local exchange company that has elected to operate under price regulation, as well as a local exchange carrier or competing local provider operating under any form of regulation covered under this Article or G.S. 62-110(f1).

(k)        To evaluate the affordability and quality of local exchange service provided to consumers in this State, a local exchange company or competing local provider offering basic local residential exchange service that elects to have its rates, terms, and conditions for its services determined pursuant to the plans described in subsection (h) or (m) of this section shall make an annual report to the General Assembly on the state of its company's operations. The report shall be due 30 days after the close of each calendar year and shall cover the period from January 1 through December 31 of the preceding year. The Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations must review the annual reports and decide whether to recommend that the General Assembly take corrective action in response to those reports. The report shall include the following:

(1)        An analysis of telecommunications competition by the local exchange company or competing local provider, including access line gain or loss and the impact on consumer choices from the date the local exchange company makes its election to be subject to alternative regulation under the terms of subsection (h) or (m) of this section.

(2)        An analysis of service quality based on customer satisfaction studies from the date the local exchange company makes its election to be subject to alternative regulation under the terms of subsection (h) or (m) of this section.

(3)        An analysis of the level of local exchange rates from the date the local exchange company makes its election to be subject to alternative regulation under the terms of subsection (h) or (m) of this section.

(l)         For a local exchange company that has made an election to be subject to alternative regulation under subsection (m) of this section, the requirement to report annually to the General Assembly under subsection (k) of this section shall no longer apply on and after the third anniversary following the date of the local exchange company's election.

(m)       Notwithstanding any other provision of this Chapter, a local exchange company that is subject to rate of return regulation or subject to another form of regulation authorized under this section and who forgoes receipt of any funding from a State funding mechanism, other than interconnection rates, that may be established to support universal service as described in G.S. 62-110(f1) and whose territory is open to competition from competing local providers may elect to have its rates, terms, and conditions for its services determined pursuant to the plan described in this subsection by filing notice of its intent to do so with the Commission. The election is effective immediately upon filing. The terms "local exchange company" and "open to competition from competing local providers" shall have the same meanings as in subsection (h) of this section.

(1)        Beginning on the date the local exchange company's election under this subsection becomes effective, the Commission shall not:

a.         Impose any requirements related to the terms, conditions, rates, or availability of any of the local exchange company's retail services, regardless of the technology used to provide these services.

b.         Otherwise regulate any of the local exchange company's retail services, regardless of the technology used to provide these services.

c.         Impose any tariffing requirements on any of the local exchange company's services that were not tariffed as of the date of the election, or impose any constraints on the rates of the local exchange company's services that were subject to full pricing flexibility as of the date of election.

(2)        A local exchange company's election under this subsection does not affect the obligations or rights of an incumbent local exchange carrier, as that term is defined by section 251(h) of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 (Act), under sections 251 and 252 of the Act, or any Federal Communications Commission regulation relating to sections 251 and 252 of the Act.

(3)        A local exchange company's election under this subsection does not affect the Commission's jurisdiction concerning:

a.         Enforcement of federal requirements on the local exchange company's marketing activities as set forth in 47 U.S.C. Part 64. However, the Commission may not adopt, impose, or enforce other requirements on the local exchange company's marketing activities.

b.         The telecommunications relay service pursuant to G.S. 62-157.

c.         The Life Line or Link Up programs consistent with Federal Communications Commission rules and relevant orders of the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

d.         Universal service funding pursuant to G.S. 62-110(f1).

e.         The authority delegated to it by the Federal Communications Commission to manage the numbering resources involving that local exchange company.

f.          Regulatory authority over the rates, terms, and conditions of wholesale services.

g.         The Commission's authority under section 214(e) of the Federal Communications Act of 1934, consistent with Federal Communications Commission rules.

h.         The authority of the Commission to act in accordance with federal or State laws or regulations, including those granting authority to set rates, terms, and conditions for access to unbundled network elements and to arbitrate and enforce interconnection agreements.

(4)        A local exchange company's election under this subsection does not prevent a consumer from seeking the assistance of the Public Staff of the North Carolina Utilities Commission to resolve a complaint with that local exchange company, as provided in G.S. 62-73.1.  (1995, c. 27, s. 6; 2003-91, s. 2; 2007-157, s. 1; 2009-238, ss. 1-4; 2009-570, s. 36; 2010-173, ss. 1-3; 2011-52, s. 3; 2011-291, s. 2.12.)