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Published: Wednesday, 12/6/2000

Ohio Senate OK's Telecom bill


COLUMBUS - Arguing that its actions are the first step in establishment of a state-of-the-art telecommunication infrastructure in Ohio, the state Senate yesterday unanimously approved a bill expected to lead to capped phone service rates but greater pricing freedom for additional services, such as high-speed Internet.

The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Roy Ray (R., Akron), insisted the two-page bill does not deregulate the telecommunication industry but rather sets the stage for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to modernize its regulation of the evolving industry.

“This bill is just the canary in the coal mine about what we need to do to build a true state-of-the art infrastructure throughout the state that attracts businesses here and, more importantly, gives our entrepreneurs in Ohio the infrastructure they need to develop new products and services and grow their businesses here,” said state Sen. Eric Fingerhut (D., Cleveland).

The bill goes to the House.

If signed by Governor Taft, the focus would shift to PUCO, which is counting on competition ultimately controlling the prices of the additional services.

“We would be freezing basic rates, but everything else would be wide open after three years, whether it's the price of a second or third line or Caller ID, forwarding or waiting,” said Ohio Consumers' Counsel Rob Tongren. “All of this is being done under the guise of competition, but what if there isn't competition? That would be the worst of all possible worlds.”

He said his office's next step is to ensure that rules adopted by PUCO force competition into telecommunications, as it is doing with the electric and gas industries.

The bill, which must win House approval, would redefine basic local exchange telephone service, clearing the way for e PUCO to adopt differing regulation schemes for that service and other forms of telecommunication services.

“I thank you very much for this bill which offers a basic price stability at a fixed rate for senior citizens who are just begging for at least one bill that is constant every month, a bill that they count on and budget by,” said state Sen. C.J. Prentiss (D., Cleveland).

In other action, the Senate:

  • Voted 29-3 to make it illegal for someone under 18 to buy tobacco products. Under Ohio law, it is a crime for merchants to sell such products to minors but not for minors to buy them. A minor who violates the law would face no jail time but could be fined, forced to participate in an anti-smoking program, and forced to surrender his driver's license.

    The bill now goes to the governor.

  • Voted 19-13 to set up a rebuttable presumption that an injury caused while a worker was under the influence of alcohol or drugs would be ineligible for workers' compensation.

    The presumption would apply if the injured worker refused to take a blood alcohol test. The bill, generally supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats, returns to the House for approval of changes made by the Senate.

  • Unanimously approved a House bill to require licensing and regulation of bail enforcement agents in the wake of complaints in and outside of Ohio about “bounty hunters” violating state laws and harassing the innocent in their quest for bail-jumpers.

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