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AT&T Gets Phone Price Caps Lifted In Kansas
Convinces State After State To Lift Price Protections
by Dampier 08:40AM Friday Apr 01 2011
Telephone customers across Kansas face higher phone bills with Wednesday's passage of an AT&T-sponsored bill that would lift rate caps on landline service and lead to rate increases. Senate Bill 72 will allow phone companies to set rates at whatever level they like on basic dial-tone service, which currently costs most Kansans between $15.50-16.50 a month, not including calling features, taxes, and fees. The measure, already approved in the state Senate, won approval in the House on a voice vote.

"This bill exists to help a company make more profits. Very simple."
-Rep. Forrest Knox, (R-Altoona)
It's just the latest in a series of efforts by AT&T to deregulate telecommunications across its service area with the help of friendly legislators. AT&T included a reminder from one legislator in a recent press release urging support for "modernized policies and regulations at the federal and state level to promote continued investment in the high-tech future of our region and our people." Even supporters admit prices are likely to go up as a result.

"At what point do we have the right to say ‘My phone bill can’t go up,” Representative Scott Schwab, (R-Olathe) told the Wichita Eagle. "I don’t remember seeing that in the first 10 amendments to the Constitution." Schwab received considerable financial support via campaign contributions from companies like AT&T, Comcast, CenturyLink, Cox, and other telecommunications PACs in the past few years.

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Support for the bill was bi-partisan. Democratic Rep. Nile Dillmore from Wichita, who received thousands of dollars from many of the same companies, told the newspaper people need to stop thinking of the phone company as a utility, suggesting people have lots of choices about how they communicate with one another.

Tell that to rural Kansas. Much of the bill's opposition came from Rep. Forrest Knox, (R-Altoona) who serves as vice-chairman of the House Energy & Utilities Committee. His district encompasses the rural counties of Wilson, Woodson and Greenwood in southeast Kansas. In many rural areas, telephone and limited broadband service typically comes from just one company -- often AT&T. Provisions of the bill could allow AT&T to abandon service to rural areas according to Knox, and raise prices for everyone else.

"This bill exists to help a company make more profits. Very simple," Knox told the Eagle. "And I don't think we're in that business. We're in the business of universal telephone service in this country." Knox's assertion of higher phone bills seems likely according to the Eagle. It studied AT&T's rate increase history in other states where phone rates were deregulated and found prices rose between fourteen and eighty-six percent within four years.

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