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Governor supports revised approach to phone rates

Today is the 33rd day of the 60-day session.

By Times wire services
Published April 5, 2003

Gov. Jeb Bush said Friday he supports a new version of a telecommunications bill he vetoed last year because it gives the Public Service Commission more control over phone rates.

The new bill has not yet been introduced but has been circulating around the Capitol.

Supporters say it will increase competition between telephone companies and result in lower rates for customers. Opponents contend competition would not increase and rates would rise.

The bill Bush vetoed last year would have decreased long-distance charges while increasing monthly rates for basic service - as much as $6.95 over a five-year period, some estimates said. That would have reduced costs for some customers and raised them for others.

Bush said the bill did not give the PSC enough discretion to deny rate increases when it felt they were unwarranted.

He said the new proposal unties the commission's hands.

"Where there is not a chance of a competitive marketplace, I think you will find that the PSC will be less likely to raise local rates," Bush said.

Bush said he also likes the bill because it expands "Lifeline" eligibility for basic service at a reduced rate for low-income customers. The bill would also create more competition, which will stabilize rates, he said.

"We have reviewed the bill, and so long as there are no significant changes, I support it," he said.

Mike Twomey, who heads the consumer group Florida Utility Watch, said the new version is worse than the bill Bush vetoed.

Twomey said the commission would have no additional authority to stop rate increases and the bill would open up the possibility of repeated increases in basic rates.

The proposal would allow basic rates - now limited to increases of less than the rate of inflation - to be treated on a par with nonbasic services such as caller ID. Nonbasic services can be increased 6 percent annually if there is no competition and 20 percent if competition exists in the marketplace.

But Cory Tilley, a spokesman for the telecommunications industry, said phone companies were not likely to raise rates 6 to 20 percent because the competition of the marketplace would force them to keep rates down.

Don't delay Everglades plan, congressmen warn

Two Florida Republican congressmen warned state lawmakers Friday they could be jeopardizing plans to restore the Everglades.

Reps. E. Clay Shaw of Fort Lauderdale and Porter Goss of Sanibel said a proposal to delay the cleansing of pollution from the Everglades "could be a fatal error."

In a letter to Florida House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Joe Spratt, R-LaBelle, the congressmen said the bill (PCB-NR-03-01) could jeopardize the "fragile partnership" between Washington and Tallahassee and federal funding for the cleanup.

Rep. Leslie Waters absent

Rep. Leslie Waters, R-St. Petersburg, was missing in action this week as the House debated a $52-billion budget.

Waters said she had surgery last week, was recuperating this week and will return to Tallahassee next week. She would not say what kind of surgery she had.

"That's about all I want to say," Waters said in a phone call returning messages left at her Tallahassee and St. Petersburg offices.

[Last modified April 18, 2003, 13:36:35]

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