By STEVEN HALL
Private citizens, not lawyers, will take center stage at the Utah Public Service Commission’s US West residential telephone rate increase hearing today.
The Utah PSC is holding Public Witness Day today from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in room 426 of the Heber Wells Building, 160 E. 300 S., Salt Lake City, an event which allows private citizens to voice their opinions regarding the $9 per month increase.
Since US West made the proposal to raise residential customers’ monthly phone bill 70 percent, several community organizations have rallied to protest the rate increase.
Representatives from Crossroads Urban Center, United We Stand America/Utah, Salt Lake Community Action Program, JEDI Women, the Disabled Rights Action Coalition, the League of Women Voters, the Coalition of Religious Leaders and Utahns Against Hunger have joined to unanimously denounce the proposal.
Crossroads Urban Center Utility Specialist and former Utah state legislator, Jeff Fox, said that Utah is not the only state that has had to deal with a proposed rate increase, and precedent should be taken into account.
“It is our position that since all the other states within (the) US West (region) where they have tried the same kind of rate increases have turned it down, Utah should also follow that same course.”
US West claims business rates subsidize home phones and it cannot be competitive for business customers unless residents pay the full cost of their service.
US West regulatory director in New Mexico, Mary Owen, said that the time has come for residential customers to pay their own way instead of subsidizing residential service with revenue from business customers.
“We cannot continue to sustain contributions from toll and other services (to residential customers),’ Owen said. “We need to offer services that are market-based.”
Opponents of the proposal disagree.
“On their website they brag about being able to reduce costs by $1 billion,” Fox said, “Then during the same time they increase our rates by over 70 percent and freeze them at that point so we don’t benefit from the cost reduction.”
According to the Associated Press, William Dunkel, an Illinois-based consultant, testified that residential basic service already pays its way and rates should be reduced, not increased.
He contended that the proposal leaves all basic residential customers paying the costs of such services such as Call Waiting, Call Forwarding, Caller ID and other optional services.
Although formal testimony will conclude this week, the PSC may not reach a decision until year’s end.
Citizens wanting additional information about Public Witness Day may call the Committee of Consumer Services at (801) 530-6645.