SBC seeks exemption from state price regulation

State regulators are expected to decide later this year whether to let Wisconsin’s largest telephone company become exempt from regulation of the price of basic phone service.

Sparsely attended public hearings on the issue took place simultaneously Friday in Milwaukee, Madison, Eau Claire and Menasha – all interlinked via a video conferencing system.

SBC seeks to remove price regulation on basic local phone service in 77 exchanges across the state. The Wisconsin Citizens’ Utility Board, a customer advocacy group, has warned that the proposal could lead to price increases. SBC Wisconsin countered that the competitive landscape in the telecommunications industry means the regulation is no longer needed.

“Some regulations are necessary to protect the common good for all,” Betty Wolcott said from Eau Claire during the hearing. “Too much power and control in the hands of any corporation or group of people is dangerous and can hurt the common good.”

But Cameron Sholty, testifying in Milwaukee, said the regulations are outdated given the changing landscape of the telecommunications field.

Regulations remaining in place when they are no longer needed serve to “inhibit flexibility.”

Sholty testified on behalf of the FreedomWorks/Citizens for a Sound Economy, an advocacy group that lobbies for free-market policies and less government regulation.

No one testified from Menasha or Madison.

SBC said its competitors, which are not subject to the commission’s price regulations, can now serve 99% of residential lines in the areas in dispute.

SBC filed a petition in November asking to be free from price caps on basic telephone service in the largest metropolitan areas it serves.

Among the cities in the two areas included in the petition are Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Waukesha, Beloit, Eau Claire, Stevens Point, Appleton, Neenah, Oshkosh, Racine and Kenosha. The two areas represent the 17 largest of SBC’s 77 exchanges in Wisconsin.