The move to deregulate basic land line phone services got off to a smooth start Monday, with legislation clearing its first Senate committee hurdle.
Senate Bill 1524, sponsored by Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, along with an identical bill in the House, would strip the Public Service Commission of its authority to set prices and regulate companies that offer traditional land line phone services.
There are about 26.1 million phone connections in Florida, of which about 5.7 million are land lines supervised by the PSC. The rest -- 16.7 million wireless connections and 3.7 million commercial land lines -- are unregulated.
This bill deals with the deregulation of the last vestiges of regulated phone service in the state of Florida, Simmons said.
Supporters of the bill praised the move toward greater deregulation and suggested the bill could lead to job creation and innovation in the marketplace, while the greater competition that exists among telecommunications companies offering multiple services would also protect consumers.
"People don't just talk anymore they have choice in how they communicate. Consumers are demanding services and products that match the way they live and work. Without regulatory reform, Florida will have rotary dial laws in a digital world," said Marshall Criser, president of AT&T in Florida.
Detractors of the bill maintained that land line users would be hurt by the bill and suggested they could even be ushered out of those lines to more profitable wireless services. They contended that low-income and elderly customers with limited telephone service options need the PSCs intervention to keep costs low.
There is still a market for basic land line service. We know that wireless coverage is spotty and not always available, said Jack McCray of AARP Florida.
McCrays concerns over the ability of elderly citizens to make any wholesale switch from land lines to wireless phone services were shared by some senators of a certain age, but one of the AARPs own brochures allayed those fears.
Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, was thinking about changing to a smaller cell phone when she saw the AARPs flier offering phones with larger buttons and louder tones.
I would be able to see the numbers, based on your brochure. I just think you offer a great option, Joyner told McCray.
Simmons bill would still preserve the PSCs role in resolving disputes between telephone service carriers, but some smaller companies are worried that provision will be changed on its way to becoming a law.
John Moyle, a lobbyist for Competitive Carriers of the South, a collaboration of 11 small local exchange telecommunications companies, wanted to ensure those companies would have recourse with the PSC to resolve disputes with larger companies.
Our companies enjoy being able to go to the PSC and get it sorted out in a prompt manner. We have great concern that if that ability were to be taken away it would go to the courts, Moyle said.
The bill has two more committee stops in the Senate and will get its first airing on Tuesday in the House. The House version is sponsored by Rep. Mike Horner, R-Kissimmee.
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