Taking On the Phone Companies

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist has a fight on his hands. He's taking on phone companies seeking the largest phone rate increase in recent state history. The increase was approved by the state Public Service Commission in December, but is on hold for now.

Stacks and stacks of paper littered the Public Service Commission when the phone companies were asking for a massive rate hike. Among the stacks was an 800-pound gorilla, information kept secret showing how much and which consumers might save.

Jack Shreve has seen the information and says there is no reason for most of it to be secret.

"There have been studies made that showed what the impact is on the individual rate payers. The individual rate payers, the public, should know what those are," says Shreve.

Approved in December, the massive rate hike is now on hold. Attorney General Charlie Crist is appealing.

"It ought to be out in the open, it ought to be the kind of thing that all of us can see while this incredible increase in rates is in their estimation, something that is justified, and our estimation something that is not," says Crist.

In this election year, there is little interest on the capitol’s fourth floor in revisiting the bill that allowed the rate hike. Still, the attorney general says the records being kept from the public will show the rate hike does not meet the criteria required by the legislation.

"It must be revenue neutral, any rate increase that would be granted. It must benefit residential consumers and it must be in the public interest," says Charlie Crist.

This case has bounced from the PSC to the Supreme Court and back to the PSC, but it will be the Supreme Court in all likelihood that will decide what the public gets to see, and if they have to pay higher phone rates.

The legal proceedings are likely to draw out for most of this year, delaying the rate hike and any political fall out until after November.

The phone companies, Bellsouth, Verizon and Sprint, claim the records in question should be kept from the public because they contain proprietary business information.