AT&T Seeking Revenge in New Bill? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

AT&T Seeking Revenge in New Bill?


Public Service Commissioner Leonard Bentz lambasted a bill that he says is a bad deal for AT&T customers.

If telecommunications giant AT&T gets its way, customers will have to call Washington, D.C., regulators to lodge complaints.

At least that's the view of two Mississippi public-service commissioners working to disconnect House Bill 825, which revises the "jurisdiction of Public Service Commission to exclude certain technological services."

Brandon Presley, a Democrat, and Leonard Bentz, a Republican, of the northern and southern Districts, respectively, launched a campaign against the measure. The three-member Public Service Commission regulates public utilities and telecommunications activities in the state. Video, voice-over Internet protocol and commercial mobile service would be exempt from the PSC's regulation, the bill states.

Bentz and Presley maintain the bill aims to removes state oversight of AT&T.

Presley characterized the bill as retaliation for the PSC's rejecting the company's request for a rate increase and for complaining about its poor mobile and residential phone service. AT&T appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court in 2009, but justices upheld the PSC's denial of the rate hike.

He added that the proposed legislation rewards AT&T despite the fact that complaints against the company increased in recent years. Specifically, he said, calls to the commission about billing errors and poor service rose from 1,735 in 2006 to 4,361 in 2011.

He said customer-service quality would further diminish if the bill passes. "It's not like selling cotton candy at the fair. This is something people need," Presley said.

Rep. Charles Jim Beckett, R-Bruce, introduced the bill. Beckett has received $3,900 in campaign donations from AT & T since 2007, according to disclosure records. Beckett was not immediately available for comment this morning.

Bentz also ripped the company. "If AT&T wants a competitive advantage, I have three recommendations," he said in a statement released to the media. "Provide a quality service, listen to your customers, and treat your customers as clients. And that does not take any legislation to accomplish."

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Update: Rep. Beckett returned the JFP's call late Monday. He called Presley's claim that HB 825 strips the PSC of regulatory oversight "an exaggeration." While AT&T would be exempt, small independent operators would remain under the PSC's authority, he said. He acknowledged that the bill, as proposed, would limit the PSC's ability to weigh in on consumer complaints but that he was open to making modification when the bill comes up in the public utilities committee hearing Wednesday morning. Beckett added the Verizon and AT&T gave input on the bill, but did not author it.


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