Pacific Bell asks PUC to double rates

Saturday November 16, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — California’s largest local phone service company has asked state regulators to more than double the rates it charges competitors to lease its phone lines, a change consumer advocates say could lead to fewer choices for customers. 

SBC Pacific Bell’s request comes just months after the Public Utilities Commission reduced such charges to encourage more competitors to start selling local service. 

Pac Bell hopes the Federal Communications Commission will grant its request to start selling long distance in California. Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the FCC must be convinced that the local phone market is competitive first to prevent Pac Bell from initially dominating all phone service sales. 

Some consumer advocates say raising the amount rivals, which include AT&T and MCI, must pay to reach customers through Pac Bell’s infrastructure will drive them from the residential phone market. 

Pac Bell wants a 140 percent increase in the wholesale price of a local phone line, raising the tab to $23.86 per month. 

Regina Costa of The Utility Reform Network, a San Francisco consumer advocacy group, says the hike would kill telephone competition in California and would lead to a massive rate hike for local service. 

Just six months ago, Pac Bell said it would be happy with half that amount. The company now says studies show current prices are far too low to cover expenses.