Phone Rate Repeal Takes Off

Attempts to bottle the bill up failed, but the battle is going to be much like David and Goliath, and the outcome far from certain.

The first thing lawmakers did was acknowledge they were wrong in passing the phone rate hike legislation last year.

"It seems to be interpreted differently by the Public Service Commission then some of those who voted for it,” admits Rep. Randy Johnson, (R) Winter Garden, Florida.

Just one phone company representative spoke.

"If this bill is repealed we will be plunging Florida back into the dark ages in telecommunications,” comments John Fons, Southern Bell spokesman.

The audience was thick with phone company lobbyists as the unanimous vote for repeal was being recorded. One company friendly member tried a procedural move to stop the bill.

"We regroup and try to do what we can to keep this bill from passing,” says Jason Duff from Sprint.

AARP lobbyist Mike Twomey is the David to the Goliath number of phone company lobbyists.

"150 last year, 150 2002 session. Right consumers are; AARP, myself,” explains Twomey.

The bill could pass the House as early as next week, so phone company lobbyists are now focusing on the Senate. With almost four lobbyists for every senator, the phone companies’ strategy is to keep this bill from even coming up in the Senate.

Mike Fasano voted no last year in hopes the phone companies don't overpower his fellow senators.

"Of course they've hired hundreds of people at the cost of millions of dollars to the phone companies to lobby against the consumer in essence. I would hope that we would overlook that,” Fasano says.

Conventional wisdom is that with a public vote, the repeal will pass, so the goal by the companies is to keep that vote from happening. One additional note, Florida Senate President Jim King says he would prefer the phone rates be decided in court rather than the Legislature.

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist already has a case at the state Supreme Court.