Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Phone Bills Going Up; It Could Be Just a Start; Legislators Are Taking a New Look at a Little-Noticed Clause They Passed in '03 to Encourage Competition and Lower Prices

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Phone Bills Going Up; It Could Be Just a Start; Legislators Are Taking a New Look at a Little-Noticed Clause They Passed in '03 to Encourage Competition and Lower Prices

Article excerpt

Byline: J. TAYLOR RUSHING

TALLAHASSEE -- The bottom line on Florida's phone bills grew a little larger Tuesday.

Nov. 1 was the trigger date for a 2003 state law that allowed a $344 million increase in basic local phone rates by Florida's major phone companies -- BellSouth, Sprint and Verizon. In Jacksonville that means by the end of three years, BellSouth customers will be paying $3.14 more a month.

It has been documented as the largest phone rate increase in Florida history. Under what legislators describe as a little-noticed clause in the law, phone companies also are now allowed to automatically increase their rates by up to 20 percent a year with no state regulation.

That has Sandy McShane of Lake City wanting to reach out and smack someone.

"This increase doesn't mean diddly to a legislator," said McShane, a BellSouth customer who helps run a small family heating business. "But to someone who doesn't have it, it sure does."

Senate President Tom Lee took note of that criticism and said Tuesday he will oppose any future phone rate increases in the Legislature unless they have built-in assurances of competition.

Phone companies largely pushed through the 2003 law on the argument that it would promote competition and lower prices. But Lee, who studied earlier versions of the law for years, said that hasn't happened, and companies have actually pushed for federal laws to stifle competition.

"I have not been able to tie these increases to the objectives they were originally approved for," Lee said. "All we know is that increases will occur. There's no assurance that the public is enjoying the competition that was promised. We ought to put in checkpoints to make sure. If there's a promise of a benefit being made to the public based on a new law, then the Legislature has a right to ensure the public gets that benefit."

Sen. Nancy Argenziano, R-Dunnellon, said she will push for the 2006 Legislature to re-impose regulatory power that the state lost with the 2003 law. But she said little will change unless Floridians get engaged.

"If there's a basis for it, then fine. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.