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PSC takes testimony on slicing Bell profits

State regulators took testimony Tuesday on a proposal to cut the profits of Southern Bell, _ a move that eventually could generate $100-million in refunds to customers.

Several consumer advocacy groups want the Public Service Commission (PSC) to roll back the phone company's profit margin because of declining interest rates.

But Southern Bell, the largest phone company in Florida, said its business costs haven't been cut by lower interest rates and its existing 13.2 percent return on equity should be maintained.

A decision on the case will be made Monday, said PSC spokeswoman Bev DeMello.

The company has 3.7-million customers along Florida's Eastern Coast and scattered in the Panhandle, Jacksonville, Gainesville and Orlando areas.

About 60,000 customers live in the Tampa Bay area, primarily in Hernando County but also in Pasco and Citrus counties.

"During the past two days we've presented a very strong case that the consumer safeguards they're requesting are already in place," said Spero Canton, a Southern Bell spokesman.

A rate incentive plan approved by the PSC in 1988 allows the phone company to earn extra profits in return for improvements in operating efficiency and customer service. Southern Bell projected the program would save customers more than $1-billion by 1992.