COLUMBUS Phone rate increase gets OK from PUCO

COLUMBUS (AP) -- SBC Ohio argued for almost two years that its costs for providing competitors access to its phone lines were higher than the amount it charged those companies.
State regulators finally agreed with the company Thursday, but only in part. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio agreed to a temporary rate increase that was lower than SBC's request.
Consumer groups objected, saying any increase will hurt competition. AT & amp;T immediately announced it was eliminating two local service phone plans, saying it could no longer afford to offer them.
The increase affects the rate SBC charges competitors to access its phone lines and equipment.
The PUCO voted 4-1 to increase SBC's $14-per-customer monthly fee by $2 in rural areas, $2.50 in suburbs and $3 in cities.
The temporary request takes effect in 30 days; a final decision in November could end the increase, leave it in place or raise it.
SBC, which requested doubling its rate in May 2002, says it's losing money on the current fee. The company had requested a $6 temporary increase.
SBC President Connie Browning called the PUCO's decision disappointing and "below what is reasonable." Still, she said the increase will produce "healthy, sustainable competition."
The commission will require SBC to issue a report every two months on the effect on the increase on competition for local telephone service in Ohio.
The commission will revoke the increase if the reports show a decline in competitors' market share. If that happens, "This interim rate will go away," warned PUCO chairman Alan Schriber.
How this works
The fee is charged to AT & amp;T, MCI, LDMI Communications and other companies that lease SBC lines and equipment to offer local telephone service.
Commissioner Judy Jones voted against the increase, saying it could hurt the state's burgeoning competition for local telephone service.
The Ohio Consumers' Counsel opposes the increase, saying it could raise the phone bills of customers that have chosen an SBC competitor or drive those competitors out of Ohio.

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