Qwest, the large telephone company serving Seattle and many other parts of Washington, has proposed that it be allowed to change (read raise) rates without prior submission to the state's Utilities and Transportation Commission. At first glance this would appear to be an insane idea, but perhaps you are from another planet and think it could be good for consumers.
Washington has a long history of weird telephone tarifs, largely set in place for political reasons that no longer have any logical relationship to population or business. Our favorite example is the persistence of the boundaries of the numerous small telephone companies that have long since been absorbed by mergers, mostly into the "Big Two," Qwest and Verizon (the descendants of ATT/PacBell and GTE. In many cases, these old companies boundaries continue as "long distance" charges assessed despite the removal of all the technical barriers that once separated the providers.
It is all politics, friends. Read the comments below by Simon Ffitch and make an effort to attend the various hearings.
OLYMPIA – The Washington State Attorney General’s Public Counsel Section filed testimony today with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) questioning key parts of a proposal by Qwest that would allow the company to increase residential telephone service prices without review by the WUTC. Customers can share their thoughts about the proposal during a hearing March 6 in Tacoma.
Qwest petitioned the commission on Oct. 20, 2006 for an alternate form of regulation. The proposal would reduce or eliminate many consumer protections currently in place, including the regulation of basic telephone rates, and service quality performance reports. Qwest claims that the changes would allow the company to be more competitive.
Qwest subscribers now pay $12.50 per month for basic phone service. Under the company’s proposal, Qwest would be allowed to increase that rate by $2 over four years (50 cents annually) so that customers would ultimately pay $14.50. The increases would occur without further WUTC approval or a review of company earnings to determine if the increase is warranted.
“You wouldn’t expect a company facing real competition to need to raise rates to meet that competition,” said Public Counsel Section Chief Simon ffitch. “Customers expect to see lower prices as a benefit of competition, not rate increases; it’s basic economics. While Qwest is seeing increased competition from cable and wireless companies, the company continues to be the dominant company in the local telephone service market because it possesses by far the largest market share,” ffitch said.
He said a study by Public Counsel also found that wireless service is an add-on service for most customers, rather than a replacement for local phone service. Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) service requires customers to have broadband Internet service, making it unavailable to some consumers and an expensive alternative to land lines for basic phone service.
Public Counsel recommended that if the WUTC adopts an alternative regulatory plan for Qwest, it should keep basic residential rates at current levels, and establish a service quality incentive plan to make sure that service does not deteriorate. In addition, Public Counsel recommended that individual services continue to be available separately as well as in bundles or packages, and that Qwest should make broadband DSL available to more of its customers. An alternative regulatory plan should be in place for up to four years and then reviewed prior to being allowed to continue.
The WUTC is expected to rule on the case by July.
How to voice your opinion:
· The UTC will hold a public comment hearing in Tacoma on Tuesday, March 6, at Tacoma Community College, 6501 South 19th St., Tacoma, in the Senate Room in Building 11. The hearing will be held 6:30-8:30 p.m.
· Customers may also submit comments in writing to WUTC, P.O. Box 47250, Olympia, WA, 98504; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (360) 664-4291. Include your name and mailing address, the name of the company (Qwest), and docket no. UT-061625.
· Consumer tip: The most helpful comments are brief, specific to the issue and include your opinion and supporting facts.
For more information, customers may contact either the WUTC or Public Counsel:
· WUTC – (800) 562-6150, e-mail at email@example.com. Information is available online at www.wutc.wa.gov. Enter 061625 in the docket lookup field.
· Attorney General’s Office Public Counsel Section -- Public Counsel, Attorney General’s Office, 900 Fourth Avenue, Suite 2000, Seattle, WA 98164-1012, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
The Public Counsel Section advocates for the interests of consumers on major rate cases, mergers and other rulemakings before the UTC. Public Counsel also advocates for consumers in court appeals, through technical study groups and before the Legislature and other policy makers. The office maintains contact with the public through a citizen advisory committee, community organizations, public hearings and personal contact with consumers in major cases. More information about Public Counsel’s work is available online at http://www.atg.wa.gov/utility/index.shtml.