BY MARY WISNIEWSKI Business Reporter Chicago Sun-Times
SBC will ask the Illinois Commerce Commission today to declare the
Chicago marketplace competitive to ease rules on how SBC can charge
for residential local service.
"It's like asking the commission to acknowledge the sky is blue," said
Carrie Hightman, president of SBC Illinois. "It's to acknowledge that
customers have a choice in phone service."
Hightman said the requested ICC ruling would permit the Texas-based
phone giant to compete freely with unregulated competitors like
wireless and cable companies.
Hightman said the requested ruling would not totally deregulate SBC in
the Chicago area -- since the ICC would still look at its rates -- but
would give SBC more flexibility.
"It will enable us to price according to the market, whatever the
market can bear," Hightman said.
SBC had promoted a telecommunications bill to the General Assembly
last spring that would further deregulate what SBC can charge rivals
and customers. SBC had argued that SBC's real competition comes from
cable television companies, cell phones and the growing use of Voice
over Internet Protocol, or VoIP.
The bill passed the Senate, but got stuck in the House.
The new request is narrower than the bill -- focusing on residential
service in the most competitive Illinois market. Having the Chicago
area declared competitive would allow SBC to respond in a timely way
to promotional offerings from rivals. It can't do this now because of
regulation, Hightman said.
The telecom bill had been criticized by the Citizens Utility Board, a
consumer watchdog group, as liable to push up prices for
consumers. SBC's current proposal could face similar opposition.
Hightman said she believes real competition would give consumers
better value and more choice. She noted that prices in the
long-distance market went down by 28 percent because of competition,
while prices for wireless service, which was never really regulated,
have dropped 50 percent in the past four years.
If it decides to investigate, the commission would have 180 days to
review SBC's request. Hightman noted that neighboring states have
reduced phone regulation.
SBC has lost 1.7 million landlines in Illinois since 2001, Hightman
said. In that same time period, consumers added 3 million wireless
lines, 900,000 non-SBC landlines and 1.3 million broadband
In other news, SBC has reached an agreement with the International
Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 21 on the building of Project
Lightspeed, an initiative to expand SBC's fiberoptics network. The
agreement would allow the company more flexible use of contractors as
it deploys the initiative.
In turn, the company has agreed to rehire about 200 IBEW-represented
technicians and has canceled the layoff of about 228 people who handle
customer calls for network installation and repair at SBC's Lakewood
Center in Hoffman Estates.
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