A big phone rate hike! You shouldn't have - really

Published November 1, 2005

Happy first of November! Today is a special day. Today is the day that local telephone rates go up for millions of people across the Sunshine State, courtesy of our Florida Legislature.

Thank you, Rep. Frank Farkas, R-St. Petersburg! Thanks to you, too, Rep. Frank Peterman, D-St. Petersburg.

Thank you, state Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island. Thank you as well, Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg.

Today marks the bitter end of the process that began back in 2003, when the Legislature rammed through a law for big rate hikes, and Gov. Jeb Bush signed it.

Once the ink was dry, our state Public Service Commission approved the rate hikes. The increases were tied up in court for a while, but the challengers finally lost.

So in September, three big local phone companies, BellSouth, Verizon and Sprint, announced rate increases of 10 to 24 percent, effective Nov. 1. Today.

The announced increases ranged from about $1.13 a month to $2.25 a month, depending on location. Maybe that doesn't sound like much. But taking a few extra bucks from a few million folks every month makes it, when you add it up, the largest rate increase in history.

Wait, there's more. From now on, the phone companies can raise their rates up to 20 percent a year. And the old standards for quality of service have been repealed.

Thank you current or former Reps. Kevin Ambler, Johnnie Byrd, Faye Culp, Ed Homan and Sandra Murman, all Republicans from Hillsborough County. Thank you, too, to their Democratic colleagues, Bob Henriquez and Arthenia Joyner.

Thank you, Rep. Ken Littlefield, R-Wesley Chapel. Thanks, too, to state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland.

Lots of these folks like to talk about how "conservative" they are and how they would never, ever raise taxes. But with this exercise of state power, they reached into millions of pockets and took a lot of money.

Higher rates are supposed to make local phone service in our state more "competitive." You know what? I am sick of arguing about it. Let's say that they're right.

Let's say that in the long term, wireless and cable and the Internet and stuff we haven't even thought of yet will make the market truly competitive.

Still, what this law really does is milk the last generations of the old, captive, wire-in-the-wall audience. After all, the phone companies tell us, it is such an awful burden to have those unprofitable local customers. They need to pay more.

And regardless of the merits of the argument, this law stinks still, because of the way it was passed. This law is the all-time poster child for what is wrong with the Florida Legislature.

The law was written in secret by the telephone industry itself, which poured millions of dollars into the state Republican and Democratic parties. (Do not believe that your own political party has any moral superiority over the other, at least in Tallahassee.)

The Legislature filed a blank piece of paper as the proposed "bill" to keep the public in the dark. Consumers and the public were not allowed to take part in the process or to help draft the legislation. Late in the game, the industry's language was added to the bill, presto, change-o! It sailed through House and Senate.

In sum, it was done wickedly. Two years have passed, and the Legislature counts on time to erase the footprints of past misdeeds. This law should hang around its neck like an albatross.

There are current and former members of the Legislature from our area who voted against this law, and now, speaking sincerely this time, one final thank-you.

In the House, here is who voted no:

Tom Anderson, R-Dunedin; Kim Berfield, R-Clearwater; Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor; John Carassas, R-Belleair; Charlie Dean, R-Inverness; Heather Fiorentino, R-New Port Richey; Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg; David Russell, R-Brooksville; Leslie Waters, R-Seminole.

In the Senate, here is who voted no:

Nancy Argenziano, R-Dunnellon; Victor Crist, R-Tampa; Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey; Tom Lee, R-Brandon; Les Miller, D-Tampa.

Happy Nov. 1.