PHONE SERVICE AND CONSUMER ADVOCATES - Mitch Perry

02/12/04

Consumer issues

Last year, the Public Service Commission unanimously approved increases in local basic phone rates of 26 to 90 percent sought by Verizon, Sprint and BellSouth

Attorney General Charlie Crist HAS filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court to overturn the hikes.

And this year, House Speaker Johnny Byrd and Senate President Jim King have recently expressed concerns about the rate increases. Both were among a large majority of state legislators who voted last spring in favor of the legislation that dramatically weakened the state's regulation of local telephone rates.

Drafted by phone company lobbyists and signed into law in May by Governor Jeb Bush, the new rules allow the big 3 phone companies to apply to the Public Service Commission for sharp increases in their local rates over two to four years, in exchange for corresponding cuts in the access fees they charge long-distance carriers.

But mostly negative public reaction to the rate hikes has prompted reconsideration of the law in this election year. Byrd, who voted in favor of the new phone regulations and is a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, said earlier this month that he is in "deep research mode" about ensuring that higher local rates will be offset by lower long-distance charges.

Mike Twomey is the President and founder of Florida Utility Watch, and is representing the AARP in trying to overturn the PSC decision....He said he was gratified to hear of Byrd and King's remarks, but says he'd be more appreciative if they would back up those remarks....He lists some things that the Legislature COULD do now (roll tape#1 o.q." without even having a hearing")

Twomey says that provision -which is related to Voice Over the Internet Protocol- should be repealed by the Legislature before it can be triggered.

IF the Phone Legislation is approved, the law permits the phone companies to increase their rates by as much as 20 percent a year without PSC Approval...Again, Attorney Mike Twomey(roll tape#2 o.q."massive increases")

Meanwhile, a state PSC prehearing officer has ruled CSX Transportation will be allowed to argue its case when regulators open hearing on Tampa Electric company's contract with TECO Transport, a subsidiary. The contract, which TECO Transport has held for four decades, is for hauling coal from the Midwest to Tampa Electric's power plants in Hillsborough and Polk counties. Tampa Electric fought to keep CSX out of the case, arguing that the railroad company is a competitor, not a customer.

Walter Dartland from the Consumer Federation of the Southeast says there 's been a $50 million overcharge on those barges moving the coal. (roll tape#3 o.q."of there's)

The Florida PSC has expedited its deliberations on Teco's Transport contract with sibling subsidiary TECO Transport. The final hearing on the matter is now scheduled to start April 13, about six weeks earlier than previously planned. Mike Twomey, head of Florida Utility Watch, said the hurry-up schedule will make it harder for the state public counsel's office and other consumer advocates to prepare for the case.(roll tape#4 o.q."too much")

OUTRO: Walter Dartland says those looking for more information on the TECO case should go to their website at www.consumerfederationse.com

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