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
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
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
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 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. …