Vestiges of state phone regulation falling away

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Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida writes that as a new law strips away state regulation of the industry, the Florida Public Service Commission is headed toward reducing fees paid by telecommunications companies.

The reduction, at least in the scheme of the massive industry, is relatively small: PSC staff members offered a proposal Monday that projected trimming the fees by about $1.2 million next year.

But the move is part of a bigger picture as the PSC’s oversight of telephone companies shrinks. Along with reducing the fees — which help pay for regulatory activities — the PSC has eliminated 12 telecommunications-related positions, with some staffers moving to other areas of the agency that regulate electricity or water.

PSC staff members met with company representatives Monday to discuss the proposed fee reduction, which is expected to go before the commission in October.

Lawmakers this spring approved a deregulation package that included eliminating PSC oversight of phone rates. The law stemmed from wide-ranging changes in the industry, such as wireless phones taking the place of home lines.

As part of the package, lawmakers required reducing the regulatory fees and directed the PSC to look, in part, at the “regulatory activities that are no longer required and the number of staff currently assigned to such activities.”

Susan Masterson, an attorney for CenturyLink, asked PSC staff for more information Monday to try to determine whether the proposed reductions meet the law’s requirements. She said she wanted to know how the PSC’s telecommunications-related expenses compared before and after the law passed.

“We don’t know what you still think you need or what you had before,” Masterson said.

Despite the law, the PSC still has a role in the telecommunications industry. That includes resolving disputes between what are known as “incumbent” carriers — such as AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink — and so-called “competitive” carriers that are allowed to tap into the incumbent companies’ infrastructure.

Jon Moyle, an attorney for Competitive Carriers of the South, an industry group, told PSC staff members Monday that it is important the commission continues to have enough money to adequately resolve such disputes.

“Our desire is to make sure there is a level of funding to allow you to do your job,” Moyle said.

The fees are collected based on a formula that includes companies’ gross revenues. Under the reductions proposed by PSC staff, the commission would receive about $4.7 million next year, down from $5.9 million if the formula did not change.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.