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FCC plan may hike your phone bill

POSTED: November 15, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Even more decisions hang in the balance Tuesday as the Federal Communication Commission will vote on a proposal that could mean increased telephone and Internet service rates for much of the country.
According to Georgia Public Service Commission public information officer Bill Edge, a go-ahead with the proposal would affect 56 million Georgians.
The FCC chairman wants to reform the way phone companies are paid for allowing other companies to use their networks and move toward a universal rate.
Companies have been setting their own access charge rates but, on average, state-to-state charges are cheaper than access charges within state.
 “Right now, there is an imbalance in access charges between calls (made) in Georgia and (calls) from Georgia to another state,” Edge said. “What would happen is, basically, local companies, their local rates are lower and many local rates would have to go up.”  
Intrastate rates would likely decrease to even out with state-to-state charges, leaving companies to find ways to fill gaps from lost access charge revenue.
Annmarie Sartor is the external communications manager for CenturyTel, the county’s only phone service provider.
She said the system is difficult to understand and most companies agree it needs be amended, but in the most constructive way.
“That system is very complicate and for many, many years a number of companies have been putting together (a plan) to fix that system and essentially that has been ignored,” Sartor said.
CenturyTel is one of several companies that have recently pushed to have the vote delayed.
“It’s very difficult to see any benefit for consumers with this proposal,” Sartor said. “Consumers aren’t even at the table in this whole policy matter.”
She thinks the FCC chairman hasn’t fully considered the ramifications of his proposal.
“It would especially be a hard hit for rural consumers,” Sartor said. “Our customers would not be able to bear that kind of increase.”
Phone companies haven’t read the proposal yet, but Sartor said it is more than 160 pages long.
“It’s not like it’s confidential that an order has been released. We just don’t get to see it,” Sartor said. “Right now, what we know about the order is it’s mostly addressing landline pro-viders.”
The issue with intercarrier compensation has been discussed for years, according to Edge, with many different suggested solutions.
In addition to access fees from other carriers, revenue comes from consumers and the Universal Service Fund.
“If any one of those three are impacted significantly it will be very detrimental to us,” Sartor said. 
A sudden pinch could keep the company from being able to invest as much in community building. 
“If our revenue streams get severely affected, certainly we’re not going to be able to roll other (new services),” Sartor said. “We don’t want to stop investing to bring our customers services that they need.”
He said carriers will have to wait for the FCC to issue the order before anything can be done.
“There may be some legislation in Georgia to provide a solution,” Edge said. “We don’t know how that’s going to turn out yet.”
Sartor urges customers to consider contacting legislative representatives to push for more review time before the proposal gets a vote.
The proposal has attracted attention from more than half of Congress.
 

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