U.S. Telephone Companies' Non-Traffic-Sensitive Costs, 1988-2008

Under U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations, all incumbent local-exchange telephone companies (ILECs) submit basic operating data (working loop and exchange counts) and non-traffic-sensitive (NTS) cost data to the National Exchange Carriers Association (NECA). NECA compiles these data and submits them to the FCC. These data are publicly available through the FCC's NECA data page. To make these data more accessible and easier to analyze, I have compiled all these data into a single, standardized dataset, called the NTS Cost Dataset (NCD). The NCD is a tab-delimited text file. The NCD field names are on the first line of the text file. The NCD contains annual NTS cost data for all U.S. ILECs from 1988 to 2008 (with the exception of AT&T in 2008).

FCC regulations define the accounting categories in the NCD. These categories are primarily defined in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 47, Part 32 (47 CFR 32). 47 CFR 36 provides some additional definitions. 47 CFR 36 also sets out the filing requirements for the data. Appendix A in NECA's Overview of Universal Service Fund (2009 version conveniently available here) describes most of the data lines in the NCD.

Data in the NCD is provided by study area. A study area is typically a telephone companies' service area within a particular state. Thus telephone companies that serve customers in multiple states have multiple study areas. Common-Control Name and Common-Control Code, which are fields within the NCD, identify study areas under the common control of a single telephone holding company. A list of telephone companies (common-control names) in the NCD is in a worksheet in the data description workbook (Excel version).

Under 47 CFR 36, App., telephone company study area boundaries were frozen as they were on November 15, 1984. Under 47 CFR 54.207(b), service areas for rural telephone companies are defined to be study areas. Commercial developments can change in fact, but not under regulation, the service area of a rural telephone company. The FCC and state regulatory commissions, after taking into account the recommendation of a Federal-State Joint Board Study, can act to change a telephone company's service area under regulation. Study areas and service areas, as defined by regulation, are relevant to FCC subsidy programs for telephone companies.

Data after 2007 does not include AT&T study areas. In 2008, AT&T was granted forbearance from the relevant cost accounting rules. Analysis of trends should recognize this change in the reporting population.

The NCD contains data on costs per working loop. A loop is a physical wire facility connecting a telephone exchange to the customer's premises. Loops are considered non-traffic-sensitive telephone company costs. The NCD includes costs attributed to loop costs and the calculated study area cost per loop. These costs are relevant to calculating subsidies (support) due to carrier under the FCC's High-Cost Loop Support program.

The data fields in the NCD are described in the field description worksheet in the data description workbook. Fields have been given descriptive names that have been standardized across years. In most cases, these field names have an obvious correspondence to the field names in the source files. The data year is one less than the (filing) year listed in the source files. Field names change greatly from the 1989 to 1990 filings, and from the 1997 to 1998 filings. The data description workbook provides maps from the source file fields to the NCD fields for these changes. Relevant FCC regulations should be consulted for authoritative definitions of data fields.

Not all data fields in the NCD are equally reliable. Neither study-area names nor common-control names are standardized across years. The common-control code is idiosyncratically defined across years. The derived field, cc-code-s, does not perfectly consistently identify common-control companies across years. The subsidy (support) data in the NCD are less accurate than the figures that the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) calculates for actual dispersal of subsidies (see also USAC FCC filings, esp. appendices). Note that the NCD does not contain data on competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs). Hence it does not contain data on high-cost loop support paid to CLECs certified as eligible to receive it.

Data in the NCD should be verified and validated as appropriate for your particular use. The source files used to construct the NCD are described on the source files worksheet in the data description workbook. Technical notes relevant to making the compilation, as well as to the consistency of the data, are in the file "nts cost dataset notes.txt" In addition, the workbook "nts cost record issues.xls" describes some inconsistencies in common-control codes, lists source records with a study-area code but no study-area name, and lists study-area names that were imputed through matching study-area codes.

The NCD is an unofficial, non-authoritative compilations created from publicly available data. It is offered here without warranty of any sort. You can show your appreciation for this compilation by identifying mistakes in it, by improving it, and by making analysis of it publicly available.

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