Commissioner Presley to personally challenge ‘AT&T Law’

JACKSON — A Mississippi utility regulator says he will challenge a new law that removes most of the state’s remaining regulatory authority over AT&T.

Brandon Presley, who represents north Mississippi on the Public Service Commission, tells the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal he’ll file the lawsuit as a private citizen in Hinds County Circuit Court.

“It violates the state constitution,” Presley said. “There’s no doubt AT&T is the biggest in the state, and this bill will allow them to raise rates without any oversight at all.”

House Bill 825 became law Sunday. It ends the PSC’s rate-setting power for 30,000 local-only landlines. Authority over most other AT&T phone rates ended in 2006.

The law also ends AT&T’s obligation to serve as carrier of last resort for landline customers in its traditional territory and eliminates requirements that it file service and financial data.

PSC members and others fought the bill, saying it could hurt rural residents and senior citizens.

AT&T has said it wants to be freed from rules competitors don’t face. The Dallas-based firm is pushing similar bills in other states.

State Rep. Charles Jim Beckett, R-Bruce, who filed the bill, said House attorneys had vetted the bill and cited no legal concerns.

As to Presley’s claims AT&T will raise rates and abandon rural areas, Beckett said he can’t predict the future but deemed both scenarios unlikely.

“If rates went up excessively, they’ll lose customers,” Beckett said.

He said new technology and increased competition already has eroded AT&T’s landline market in Mississippi.

“That customer base is going away no matter what AT&T does,” Beckett said. “This (law) is an effort to allow them to invest in the technologies the customers want.”

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