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AARP Watching Phone De-Reg Bill

By: Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida
By: Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, March 14, 2011 --

The state branch of the AARP began raising concerns Monday, March 15, about a proposed deregulation of telephone rates, which supporters say would simply bring the state’s telecommunications rules into the 21ist century.

Jeff Johnson, interim state director for the organization in Florida, said AARP is still studying the measure. But he said the prospect of completely deregulating the phone rates in the state alarmed the organization.

“It looks to us like one that’s going to be bad for consumers, and it’s going to be a real challenge for us this session,” Johnson said.

The organization mentioned its concerns at a press conference called to unveil a survey of Floridians age 50 or older, including their concerns about utility costs.

That survey showed about 40 percent said it was difficult to pay their electricity bill and 78 percent were at least “somewhat concerned” about potential increases in the price of electricity.

Johnson said the organization didn’t know about the bill when it commissioned the survey and didn’t ask specifically about phone bills. Still, he said the survey indicated the challenges faced by older Floridians, including seniors on a fixed income.

“When you talk to folks who are 50 and over …. raising those fixed costs for no good reason is something that they’re not going to put up with,” said Johnson.

The bill – sponsored in the Senate by Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, and in the House by Rep. Mike Horner, R-Kissimmee – would add land-line telephone services to the list of utilities exempt from regulation by the Public Service Commission.

Simmons said his bill is simply an acknowledgement of the changing industry landscape, where cell phones play a larger role and landlines are beginning to decline. Cell phone rates are not regulated by the PSC.

“The telecommunications industry has seen dramatic changes over the last 10 years, and the technology has increased exponentially so that the prior concepts of the telecommunications industry as a monopoly are truly archaic,” he said.
Particularly with wireless and other technologies unregulated, the old-line services “should be opened up to free enterprise just like any other part of the telecommunications industry,” he said.

Utility companies are stepping behind the bill, offering the same reasons as Simmons.

“Florida’s telecommunications laws should reflect the reality of the current competitive marketplace and encourage jobs and investment,” said Stephanie Smith, a spokeswoman for AT&T Florida. “We are operating under rotary dial regulation in an iPhone world, and if this bill passes, consumers will benefit from a competitive marketplace that continues to ensure consumer protection.”

While it’s not clear how hard telecom interests will push the measure, AT&T showed a willingness to spend to advance its agenda last year, shelling out $1.7 million in compensation for lobbyists.


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