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News >  Idaho

Bill To Open Phone Company Competition ‘Fragile’ State Begins Foray Into Deregulation

Associated Press

The Idaho Legislature has its first bill on telephone deregulation, and members of a special subcommittee that helped put it together warn it won’t be the last.

The House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday voted introduction of a bill to carry out state requirements under federal telephone deregulation.

Members of the panel that wrote it say lawmakers need to become informed on the issue because it is so important to Idaho consumers.

“Each one of us is going to have to do a lot of thinking to decide the issues,” said Rep. John Alexander, D-Pocatello. “Our decisions are going to impact rates and competition for a long time.”

“We will be revisiting this issue again,” said Rep. Ron Crane, R-Nampa, cochairman of the panel that met 10 hours with telephone company lobbyists last week to work out the legislation.

He said the bill is the result of many compromises, “fragile at best,” and warned that any amendments might cause the compromise to unravel.

Crane said congressional deregulation means states must pass laws requiring competition at the local exchange level.

The bill would:

Authorize the Public Utilities Commission to set rates.

Remove all barriers to companies competing for local service customers in what has been the exclusive domain of carriers such as U S West and GTE.

Prevent companies from using revenue from one part of its business, such as long distance, to subsidize local service.

Exempt rural telephone companies and cooperatives for three years. Crane said that will give them time to deal with the fact that outside companies might want to compete for their customers.

Committee members were told it was possible that rates for basic, local telephone service might double. But competition also could lower the basic rates.

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