Telecommunications Revolution Still in Developmental Stage

Article excerpt

TALLAHASSEE -- A year ago, telecommunications giants promised

competition and lower rates if the Legislature would loosen

regulations on the industry, while consumer advocates warned

darkly of higher prices and worse service.

Neither has happened yet, but big changes are on the horizon.

Thirty-two companies, from long-distance companies such as AT&T

to communications firms such as Time-Warner, have been certified

by the Public Service Commission to offer local telephone

service.

Continental Cablevision, which has 246,000 cable customers in

Northeast Florida, is providing telephone service to some

Jacksonville businesses and hopes to expand to hotels and

apartment complexes by the end of the year.

It is farther along in the process than most.

David Reid, Continental's director of corporate affairs, said

it may be awhile before the technology is perfected to the point

that it is feasible to serve single-family houses, but the day

will come when the company will be able to offer packages

including telephones, cable television and highspeed data

services.

Reid said the advantage to the customer will be cheaper prices

and reliable service due to the fiber-optic lines that are used.

"There is no use offering it if we can't do it cheaper," Reid

said.

Steve Wilkerson, president of the Florida Cable

Telecommunications Association (formerly the Florida Cable

Television Association), calls what is going on "nothing short

of a revolution."

"Florida is light-years ahead of the rest of the nation,"

Wilkerson said. "No state has as many alternate local exchange

companies as Florida."

But Monte Belote, executive director of the Florida Consumer

Action Network, said getting a certificate from the PSC and

actually providing service are two different things.

"That certificate and 25 cents will buy you a cup of coffee,"

Belote said.

Belote was one of those who fought the deregulation move last

year, complaining that true competition might never take place,

while the companies currently providing service would be free to

raise prices after a few years. …