Topeka A lawmaker on Wednesday was accused of pushing for legislation that would benefit his rural telephone company, but Rep. Carl Krehbiel, R-Moundridge, said he was watching out for what was best for Kansas and accused his detractors of character assassination.
"I've never seen someone so interested in protecting their own piggy bank," said Jason Talley, chief executive of Nuvio Corp., an Overland Park company that provides services that allow telephone calls over the Internet.
Talley was referring to Krehbiel, vice chairman of the House Utilities Committee. Krehbiel has been a chief sponsor and voted for House Bill 2463, which was recommended for approval on a 9-8 vote in the committee and will be considered by the full House today. Krehbiel's vote was crucial to the bill's approval. Committee Chairman Carl Holmes, R-Liberal, cast the tie-breaking vote.
The bill would require compensation be made to local telephone companies when another telephone provider delivers a call to those locals, which then pass through the call.
Krehbiel is president and director of a rural phone company, Moundridge Telephone Co.
Critics say that under the bill, Krehbiel's phone company would be guaranteed payments from other providers and those payments would boost the cost of doing business, delaying the time that new communication technologies would arrive in Kansas.
"I don't feel he is looking after the advancement of Kansas in the field of the next generation of services," Talley said.
In the committee, the measure was supported by rural telephone companies and opposed by SBC, Cingular, Verizon, Rural Cellular, Sprint, Western Wireless and Nuvio.
The opponents say the bill is unnecessary because federal regulators are tackling the issue of interconnection rates. They also oppose a provision that allows local exchange companies to ask the Kansas Corporation Commission to allow them to block calls coming into their exchange if no connection agreement can be reached.
Krehbiel denied he had a conflict of interest, saying because he has investments in wireless companies, he would actually be better off financially if the legislation failed.
"I have a dog on each side of this fight," he said. "My personal financial stake in wireless is greater and substantially larger," than his holdings in Moundridge Telephone, he said.
Krehbiel said he was pushing for passage of the bill because it would help Kansas ratepayers.
Ratepayers pay a monthly fee on their phone bills into a fund that is then doled out to telecommunications companies to help subsidize service in rural areas. If wireless companies are required to pay the rural companies for transmitting calls, then the rural companies will receive less from the ratepayer fund, and that monthly fee will diminish, Krehbiel said.
"It will amount to a tax cut to Kansas consumers," Krehbiel said.
He said it's only fair that wireless companies start paying their "freight" and stop "freeloading."
Dick Veach, general manager of Pioneer Communications in Ulysses, agreed with Krehbiel. In testimony to the Utilities Committee, Veach said that "under the bill, and especially with revisions we support, responsibility for the costs of using a carrier's network is placed on the company that benefits from that use. It's a simple matter of pay as you go."