By William McNary and Lynda DeLaforgue
Co-Directors, Citizen Action/Illinois
Illinois is once again on the verge of revamping the laws regulating telecommunications in our state. And in the wake of the new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decisions that weakened rules designed to promote competition and choice, it is now more important than ever to have rigorous state oversight and a strong Illinois Commerce Commission to protect consumers, maintain low rates, and guarantee service quality.
The SBC-backed bill (SB 1700) that recently passed out of the Illinois State Senate is based on the faulty premise that competition is flourishing in Illinois. Since the recent increase in the rates that small and medium-sized phone companies pay to access the public phone network, we are seeing less and less competition and more and more evidence of SBC returning to its monopoly status.
At its height, when AT&T and MCI were in the market, competition for local phone service was only at 20 percent. Now with AT&T and MCI gone, its even less. The recent merger of SBC and AT&T, and the anticipated mergers of other phone giants may mean even less competition. Less and less competition means fewer consumer choices. Fewer choices in an unregulated market can lead to higher prices and poor service.
As we begin to reconsider the current Telecommunications Act, we should not entertain or accept any proposals that roll back consumer-friendly protections. We urge the Illinois House of Representatives to resist calls for deregulation of telecommunications services in Illinois.
The Telecommunications Law of 2001 sparked competition for local phone service that provided consumers with more choices, lower rates and better service. As we move down the new telecommunications highway, where all roads lead to SBC, there has never been a more important time to put laws in place that protect rates, choice and service quality to Illinois consumers. As currently drafted, SB 1700 falls far short of this goal.
Citizen Action/Illinois is located at 28 E. Jackson Blvd., Suite 605, Chicago, IL 60604 and may be reached at (312) 427-2114, fax (312) 427-2307, or www.citizenaction-il.org.
From the June 1-7, 2005, issue