Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Telecom Task Force Brings Public Relations Problems

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Telecom Task Force Brings Public Relations Problems

Article excerpt

The first meeting of a high-level task force on telecommunications put the spotlight on some embarrassing issues for state policy- makers.

For one thing, it revived the debate over a controversial moratorium on traditional telephone regulation that was approved by the Legislature two years ago over the objections of the state Corporation Commission.

Officials are now are discussing `'a settlement'' with Southwestern Bell Telephone for excess profits the company allegedly reaped the last two years because of the moratorium.

It was learned at last week's task force meeting that a so-called $640 million settlement of a Bell rate case in 1996 was not all it was trumped up to be.

Corporation Commission staff released figures showing Bell kept nearly $228 million of the settlement total because vouchers for various services went unused by consumers, as did $28 million of $30 million set aside for school technology.

The fact that the task force is meeting and talking about a "settlement'' with Bell has brought a measure of vindication to Corporation Commission Chairman Bob Anthony, who strongly opposed the 1997 moratorium.

Anthony argued at the time that House Bill 1815 was an effort to "double-cross" ratepayers under the 1996 settlement, which called for Bell to turn over financial data to the commission by July 1, 1997, as part of a new rate review.

Task force Chairman Mike Hunter, a member of Keating's cabinet, concedes the moratorium made it impossible for the Corporation Commission to return to ratepayers any excess earnings by Bell the last two years.

By using the word "settlement," Anthony says, "the governor and the task force members are acknowledging an excess revenue collection by Southwestern Bell is occurring, which was caused by the moratorium in (House Bill) 1815."

Keating formed the task force after a failed, closed-door attempt during the final days of this year's legislative session to negotiate "a settlement" with Bell that would have provided financing for a higher education capital bond issue.

One proposal called for Bell to pay $25 million to the state over a 10-year period. In return, legislation was to be drafted to further deregulate the telecommunications industry. …

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