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Dear Senate: We'll know who raised phone rates

By HOWARD TROXLER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 20, 2002


To the honorable members of the Florida Senate:

To the honorable members of the Florida Senate:

On your calendar today is Senate Bill 988, which you know about by now.

It is a bill to raise the local telephone rates for millions of Floridians.

You have been reassured -- by other lawmakers, by lobbyists and by your party -- that you will be "safe" if you vote for this bill.

You've been told that you are not "really" voting to raise phone rates, because the Public Service Commission has the final say.

You might even have heard that your vote will not be used against you in this fall's elections, because of an "understanding" reached between Democrats and Republicans there.

You've been told that this bill is a "wash" for customers because they will get long-distance rate cuts. Perhaps you should ask your friendly telephone lobbyist what happens to, say, your own mom or dad, or any retiree on a fixed income, or young couple starting out in life, who keep their long-distance use as low as possible, but would still get stuck for higher local rates.

Perhaps you also should ask the lobbyists what guarantee exists in this bill that the long-distance companies won't turn right around and re-raise their rates. (None.)

You've even been given a spin for the voters. You are to tell them that this bill will make local telephone service more "competitive" in Florida. You are to tell them that this is a pro-consumer bill -- that you are helping them.

But senators, you are breathing the lobbyists' air up there and not the people's air.

The House done messed up. The House was told all that same stuff last week and swallowed it without chewing.

Listen:

Not a single person out here in the rest of Florida believes a word of all that bull, except maybe for executives of the phone company, and I am not sure even they do.

If you vote today for this bill, then the people are going to know that you did it.

Retiree groups are going to tell them. Consumer groups are going to tell them. There will be candidates this fall who will ignore that wicked pact of silence made by your party.

Me, I'm gonna tell 'em too.

This is not a good bill. It is a bad bill. It is more than a bad bill. It is a lie. It is a robbery. It is the forcible taking of money from millions of people.

This bill does two things only:

It does a favor for AT&T and the other long-distance guys. They get to pay less money to the local phone companies like BellSouth and Verizon.

To make up this lost money, the local guys get to stick it to their customers.

Not the BIG customers, either. The big customers do not get their rates raised. Only little people get hurt. Residential customers and small businesses with only one line.

You will be told that the PSC has final say. But look at the language of the bill, and some of the amendments. Look at the bill that came out of the House. It does not give the PSC a choice. It declares that "X" is true, and then says, "If X is true, the PSC must raise rates."

Here is the funny part. If you believe the telephone companies' own numbers ... Then this bill will NOT increase competition. No new companies will come rushing into Florida to sell a local dial tone to little folks. The local phone companies are going to stay a local monopoly, with a captive audience.

If Florida is really going to have local telephone "competition," there is a right way to get there. But it will take hard work by you, and a comprehensive approach that gives everybody a seat at the table.

Not this grubby little bill.

This is just a mugging.

* * *

Dear readers: It is not too late today to urge your senator to vote against raising phone rates (or in favor, if you're so inclined). The phone numbers for senators in your area are in the government listings of the phone book. Senators' e-mail addresses can be found at www.leg.state.fl.us. If you can't reach that site, each senator's e-mail address is usually:

(last name).(first name).web@leg.state.fl.us

for example, sebesta.jim.web@leg.state.fl.us. -- You can reach Howard Troxler at (727) 893-8505 or at troxler@sptimes.com.

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