Bill would remove PSC authority to hear telecom complaints
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Jan 30, 2014 | 2700 views |  0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY – An Alabama Senate committee voted Thursday to approve a bill that would eliminate much of the Public Service Commission’s authority to handle complaints against telecommunications companies.

Members of the Commerce Transportation and Utilities Committee voted 5-0 to send the full Senate a bill that would remove the PSC’s authority to handle complaints about telecommunications companies related to inaccurate billing, billing of telecommunications services the customer didn’t order, and the establishment or disruption of phone service.

Alabama AT&T president Fred McCallum told lawmakers the complaints line was one of the few aspects of retail phone service still regulated by the PSC. Competition between phone providers, he said, has made most regulation of the industry unnecessary.

“We’re just proposing that this last bit be allowed to end,” he said after the committee meeting. McCallum said the telecommunications company is prepared to handle those complaints through its own 800 number.

PSC president Twinkle Cavanaugh told lawmakers the commission had no opinion on the bill. She said commissioners believe the Legislature has the authority to decide what the PSC regulates.

Still, Cavanaugh said, the PSC’s complaint line took 749 complaints against telecom companies over the last year – 588 of them against AT&T. Cavanaugh said the number of complaints against AT&T may be due to its share of the market.

Cavanaugh urged lawmakers to provide the PSC with some option for directing customers to a help line when complaints are made.

“By the time these 749 people get in touch with the commission, they’re pretty unhappy,” she said.

The PSC doesn’t regulate most retail telecommunications services, which are sold directly to customers. McCallum said the commission still regulates rates for wholesale services, such as use of transmission lines, that large telecommunications companies sell to other providers.

The bill moves on to the full Senate for a vote.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.
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