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Published: Tuesday, 6/5/2001

PUCO considers reducing telephone price restrictions


COLUMBUS - Consumer groups are preparing to do battle with the telephone industry as the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio considers reducing price restrictions over all but the most basic of local telephone service.

“Consumers are being told to go back to the 1950s to a single-line, dial-tone-only service, and if you don't like that, you pay the exorbitant prices that the companies will be allowed to charge for all of the new services that have come into existence since the 1950s,” said Mark Cooper, director of research for the Consumer Federation of America.

The American Association of Retired Persons yesterday particularly targeted Ameritech, the dominant phone company for most of central and northern Ohio, because of consumer service complaints and fines imposed by the state regulators.

The PUCO will hold seven hearings this month on proposed regulations that eliminate the price restrictions on most phone services beyond basic. The sole northwest Ohio hearing will be at 7 p.m. June 25 at the Government Center building in downtown Toledo.

The agency's chairman, Alan Schriber, expects a commission vote on the regulations in July.

If phone companies like Ameritech and Sprint voluntarily opt into this new type of alternative regulation, prices for basic service would be frozen at current levels indefinitely. Prices caps on other services, such as Caller ID and call waiting would be gradually lifted.

The idea is to permit phone companies to make more money on some services in return for a promise to increase their investment in better telecommunication systems in the state, to improve Ohio's technology capabilities.

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