Contact: Ryan Lippe
Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel
COLUMBUS, Ohio – December 1, 2009 – Telephone companies do not need less regulation, consumer advocates will tell an Ohio House committee today. Hearings on House Bill 276, legislation that would allow annual local telephone rate increases and weaken consumer protections, will continue this afternoon. There has been widespread opposition to the bill from consumer, low-income and senior groups across the state.
David Bergmann, an assistant Ohio consumers’ counsel, will oppose HB 276, legislation drafted by the telephone industry. Bergmann also is the Telecommunications Committee chair of the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates.
“Ohio’s current laws and rules are consistent with those across the country,” Bergmann said before the hearing. “Ohio telephone companies already have been given plenty of flexibility. A new law is unnecessary and would give Ohio the unfortunate distinction of being among the states that have relaxed standards more than necessary and at the expense of residential consumers.”
The Columbus NAACP joins the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC) and other groups in opposition to the legislation. “In these tough economic times, the last thing Ohioans need is increasing telephone bills. This legislation would harm Ohioans who are most vulnerable, including those on the low-income Lifeline program,” said Noel Williams of the Columbus NAACP. "This legislation, as proposed, is simply unacceptable."
Bergmann said, “Only nine states have deregulated their rates as much as Ohio’s proposed legislation would. What we currently do in Ohio is what the vast majority of the states that have deregulated the telephone industry are doing.”
According to Bergmann, some states have recognized the need for commitments from telephone companies in return for relaxed regulations. For example, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Georgia, among others, have required companies to invest in broadband while allowing rates to increase. “These states understand that without such concrete requirements, the telephone companies’ promises that deregulation will bring more investments and jobs are likely to be hollow, unfulfilled promises,” Bergmann said.
The OCC and 20 other organizations formed Ohioans Protecting Telephone Consumers to defeat HB 276 and Senate Bill 162, similar legislation in the Ohio Senate.
“Given the poor economic climate for Ohio households, we cannot afford to allow rate increases to basic local service every year, weaken consumer protections and reduce telephone service quality standards,” said Consumers’ Counsel Janine Migden-Ostrander.
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