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Legislators awaken to realization that the phone rate law stinks

There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth...

_ Gospel of Matthew

My, my, they are startin' to weep and gnash now, ain't they?

The president of the Florida Senate, the honorable Jim King, R-Jacksonville, now says that he, too, is having second thoughts about the law he passed to jack up everybody's telephone rates.

In this vale of crocodile tears, King joins his House counterpart, Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City. Byrd recently said he is in "deep research mode" over the law.

Let's review the Legislature's performance to date, shall we?

THE YEAR 2003

(Not an election year)

Take campaign money from phone companies. Allow telephone lobbyists to write their own law saying whatever they want. Refuse to permit any debate or compromise. Ignore all input from consumer and citizen advocates. Ram bill through House and Senate.

THE YEAR 2004

(An election year)

Pretend they didn't mean it.

Puh-leese! Here is what I hear is happening. Their opinion polls are telling them that Floridians are stubbornly refusing to forget that they got screwed, blued and tattooed by the Legislature. This issue remains red-hot.

Well, boys, since you weren't paying any attention last year, here are some suggestions for what you can fix this year:

Not only does your law let 'em jack up rates for the next couple of years _ then it lets them continue to raise rates by up to 20 percent a year, forever, no questions asked. You gotta repeal that.

I bet you don't know that you repealed the quality standards for phone company service. Your law says that phone companies can no longer be held accountable by the state for poor service _ phones not working, not calling customers back, a missing dial tone, failing to show up for customer appointments. Are you sure you wanna do that?

I also bet you don't know about another wide-open loophole in your law that will let the phone companies take even more money, potentially hundreds of millions. The instant that the feds or the state gets rid of access charges for so-called Voice-Over-Internet service, the phone companies get to raise rates even more _ automatically.

And for your members who got bought off by promises that the "Lifeline" service would be expanded for poor folks, you might want to double-check whether that's going to cover fully all these big fat rate hikes after the first few years. Here's a hint: No.

Oh, yeah. Maybe you should find out how much of a benefit residential customers are actually getting from this so-called "revenue-neutral" rate hike. While you're at it, check out how much new "competition" is occurring in residential phone service.

Just a few friendly suggestions.

I am delighted to repeat, as I will keep repeating all year, a roll-call list of how the members of the Legislature from our part of Florida voted on this brutally one-sided law.

Here's who voted yes in the House:

Kevin Ambler, R-Lutz; Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City; Faye Culp, R-Tampa; Frank Farkas, R-St. Petersburg; Bob Henriquez, D-Tampa; Ed Homan, R-Tampa; Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa; Ken Littlefield, R-Wesley Chapel; Sandy Murman, R-Tampa; Frank Peterman, D-St. Petersburg.

Here's who voted no in the House:

Tom Anderson, R-Dunedin; Kim Berfield, R-Clearwater; Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor; John Carassas, R-Belleair; Charlie Dean, R-Inverness; Heather Fiorentino, R-New Port Richey; Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg; David Russell, R-Brooksville; Leslie Waters, R-Seminole.

Here are the senators who voted yes:

Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island; Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg.

Here are the senators who voted no:

Nancy Argenziano, R-Dunnellon; Victor Crist, R-Tampa; Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey; Tom Lee, R-Brandon; Les Miller, D-Tampa.

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