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Archive for Friday, January 13, 2006

AT&T seeking price flexibility

January 13, 2006

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The new AT&T wants to shed its regulated past, asking Kansas lawmakers to deregulate its phone services in the state.

The company - formerly SBC Communications, which recently assumed the AT&T name after acquiring the longtime telecommunications operator - filed a bill this week with the Senate Utilities Committee seeking latitude for AT&T, Sprint and other traditional phone companies to set their own rates on telephone services.

Rates for such "land-line" services and their related features are regulated by the Kansas Corporation Commission, and AT&T officials say such regulations no longer are needed in the state's largest markets, such as Wichita, Topeka and Kansas City, Kan.

Under the bill, Lawrence also would qualify as a competitive market and be a candidate for deregulation, said Don Brown, a spokesman for AT&T Kansas.

AT&T, with nearly 1 million access lines, wants the freedom to meet or beat competitors' prices without having to wait nearly two months for regulators to consider their requests, Brown said.

"We are being regulated as if we are still a telecommunications monopoly, when in fact there are other competitors ... who have all entered the marketplace," Brown said.

Senators failed to move a similar bill out of the utilities committee last year. This year's version is headed for a hearing this month.

Sen. Marci Francisco of Lawrence, the committee's ranking Democrat, acknowledged the bill would spawn another "difficult discussion," one pitting free-market forces against the needs of the state's most vulnerable consumers: elderly and rural residents.

"My concern is, if there's competition now, will there continue to be adequate competition over the next five or 10 years?" Francisco said. "They could offer services at prices that may make it impossible for other competitors to stay in that business."

Sen. Roger Pine, R-Lawrence, also serves on the committee.

"It's a gray area that needs to have some clarity," he said.

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