Phone Freeze

A bill freezing phone rates cleared the state House Wednesday, a far cry from the outright repeal sought by the House speaker. Johnny Byrd was accused of political tomfoolery by his colleagues and had to retreat from that quest.

Democrats began the debate by calling for a tax cut on phone rates. They were gaveled to a halt and ruled out of order. With that out of the way, the bill’s sponsor almost apologized to the lobbyists in gallery.

Rep. Holly Benson, ® Pensacola, says, “It is harder still to look our good friends in the industry in the eye and say I’m going to renege on my promise, but ultimately we have to face the folks at home.”

By freezing the rates as of last July 1, the bill actually reinstates local area service charges, prompting republican Kevin Ambler to vote no.

“The very thing we think to do, which is freeze rates, has an unattended consequence of keeping rates higher for those people that would’ve benefited,” says Ambler.

In the end about a dozen republicans defected afterwards. Telephone lobbyists were livid. Bell South’s John Fons ran from our cameras.

Industry spokesman Cory Tilley says the vote was a step backwards.

“Basically today the legislature took away all of the good benefits of a great piece of legislation from last year and they made a mockery of the legislative process.”

There’s little interest taking this bill up in the Senate, so if the phone companies have their way, it is done Wednesday.

Even Jeb Bush believes the freeze is dead even without the legislation. The rate hike is frozen until court challenges are over, and those could take till the end of the year.

Democrats and even some republicans complained that the House speaker violated his own rules and procedures to bring the Telecom bill to the floor for a vote. They accuse speaker Byrd of manipulating the process to bolster his campaign for the U.S. Senate.