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Residents get chance to speak on phone deregulation



Published: Mon, August 27, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio apparently doesn't want to hear what Mahoning County residents have to say about proposed new rules that would permit telephone companies to double charges for many of the services that customers have come to use.

We're not surprised that the PUCO doesn't want to hear from any more Ohio residents than it absolutely has to on this topic. Opponents have been giving the PUCO an earful.

But try as it might, the PUCO isn't going to be able to hide from Youngstown and surrounding communities. Youngstown wasn't one of the seven cities selected by the PUCO to host hearings earlier this summer. But, as state Rep. Sylvester Patton announced last week, there will be a hearing.

Coming tomorrow: The Ohio Consumers Counsel will hold one at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Youngstown City Hall. Residents will be able to voice their approval or disapproval of the changes.

Basically the proposed changes would give telephone companies that are now regulated by the PUCO far more freedom in determining charges for all but basic telephone service. If all a consumer has or intends to have is a single, no-frills line, these rule changes would have no effect.

But for those little extras -- those services that phone companies have gone to great lengths in recent years to persuade their customers to buy -- the costs could increase dramatically.

Under the proposal, the charges for Caller ID, Call Trace and a second phone line could double after three years. The charges for Call Waiting, three-way calling and other custom calling features could be increased without limits of any kind after a year.

And if and when a phone company offered subscribers broadband Internet access over their phone lines, the PUCO would have no say over what the phone company charged for such lines.

As it appears now, the PUCO is prepared to deregulate large segments of the telephone industry without benefit of legislative oversight and with as little public input as it can possibly manage.

Give and take: Perhaps there's a good reason for the PUCO to voluntarily take itself out of the business of regulating ancillary telephone charges. If so, the proponents of these changes have the same opportunity to make their case at public hearings as do the opponents.

If the PUCO is going to down the road of deregulating such services, along with broadband access, it should do so only after making every attempt to engage the citizens of Ohio in a debate over the wisdom of such a strategy.

At least the office of the Ohio Consumer's Counsel has stepped in to give Youngstown-area residents a chance to speak. Those who wish to have their voices heard can do so tomorrow evening at City Hall.




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