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Presley to file challenge to new oversight removal law

July 3rd, 2012 No comments

Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley intends to challenge the constitutionality of a new law that removes the “carrier of last resort” mandate from AT&T and other layers of oversight from phone companies operating in Mississippi.

Presley, the Commission’s lone Democrat, said in an interview Monday that he sees the potential for rural customers to have their landline phone service eliminated, now that AT&T is no longer mandated by law to provide service to those areas. Presley also said the law’s removing single-line phone service rates from PSC jurisdiction violates the Mississippi Constitution.

Specifically, Presley cites Article 7, Section 186, which requires the Legislature to pass laws that allow for the “supervision” of telephone companies, among others, either by a commission or other entity.

“I intend to challenge this on behalf of little communities like Randolph and Dennis and Dumas – little places where customers have been paying a phone bill all these years, and they don’t deserve to have the rug jerked out from under them or have to pay out the nose is this bill stands,” Presley said.

Presley, who is challenging the bill as a private citizen and not in his capacity as a public service commissioner, said he hopes to file court papers in Hinds County Circuit Court either late this week or early next week.

Beckett: PSC jurisdiction will be included in HB 825

February 29th, 2012 No comments

The House Public Utilities Committee Wednesday morning tabled HB 825, a bill that has caused quite a bit of hue and cry over the past few days.

Most of that has come from members of the Public Service Commission, who were upset that it would strip them of jurisdiction over customer complaints related to AT&T. Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley and Southern District Commissioner Leonard Bentz have led the charge on that front.

Public Utilities chairman Jim Beckett, R-Bruce, said he hoped to hold another committee meeting Thursday afternoon after the House adjourns to take it up again. The committee decided to table the bill after a flurry of amendments.

Beckett told reporters that the PSC regaining jurisdiction over AT&T customer complaints will be “part of the deal” in any version of the bill that eventually clears committee and is sent to the House floor.

“That’s their biggest concern, and it’s the biggest concern I’ve heard from other members,” Beckett said.

What the bill does not do is require AT&T to serve as a “carrier of last resort” in rural areas. It also doesn’t require AT&T to file service data with the PSC.

“It’s a competitive market,” Beckett said. “I don’t see them (AT&T) going out here and flipping the switch and unhooking customers. I think they’ll continue to provide that, and as technology changes I think there will be more and more opportunities for people to get service.”

Mayo Flynt, president of AT&T Mississippi, declined to talk to reporters Wednesday morning.

Bentz, Presley agree: AT&T oversight removal bill bad business

February 24th, 2012 1 comment

The Mississippi Public Service Commission is not particularly known for agreeing on a whole lot.

The opposite of that is true when it comes to House Bill 825. The bill, filed by Rep. Jim Beckett, R-Bruce, has been referred to the Public Utilities Committee, which Beckett chairs.

What the bill would do is essentially remove a lot of functions AT&T performs from PSC jurisdiction. Television and radio stations already enjoy this exemption. The legislation would extend it to AT&T, and shift that oversight to the federal government. That’s the simple explanation, anyway.

Commissioners Leonard Bentz, a Republican who represents the Southern District; and Brandon Presley, a Democrat representing the Northern District, both have issued lengthy statements that generally paint the bill as one of the worst ideas to circulate around the Capitol in some time. That’s significant, because Bentz and Presley don’t see eye to eye all that often.

Presley called it a “corporate wish list.” Bentz said it would make AT&T’s customer service operations — which have become infamous for their ability to frustrate customers — worse.

One thing is certain. Beckett, since he wrote the bill, will surely air it in front of the Public Utilities Committee. You can bet there will be some lawmakers who hear from folks who don’t like this.

Statements in full from Bentz and Presley:

Public Service Commission Chairman Leonard Bentz announced today his opposition to HB 825, which would remove all oversight which the Mississippi Public Service Commission has over AT&T.

 “This is a very bad bill for consumers in Mississippi,” Commissioner Bentz stated. “Even though AT&T will tell you that the oversight that we [PSC] have is limited, the little we do have is piece of mind for the consumers.”

“You don’t have to think very long to understand why this bill is bad. Think back to last time you called in a problem to AT&T and the lack of customer service you received. This bill would make it worse. It is important to understand AT&T will lead you to believe this bill will affect only a small number of customers, but that is not so. As it stands right now, all customers with AT&T have the ability to file complaints with the Public Service Commission, and have the PSC on their side to help them navigate the system. The bill clearly states customer appeals will be removed from the PSC jurisdiction.

“Further, AT&T states they are at a competitive disadvantage. How can you be at a disadvantage when you own more infrastructure and receive more Universal Service Fund monies than any other telecommunication company? The bill would also limit the Commission’s oversight of the Universal Service Fund. This is a critical fund in which AT&T receives monies to invest in their infrastructure. In the proposed bill this would give the oversight to the federal government,” Bentz added.

“The avenue for customer complaint appeals to the PSC will also be removed. I guess if a consumer had a complaint they could call the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  If AT&T can explain to me how this bill will build better customer service by calling a Washington bureaucrat versus an elected Mississippian, I will be their biggest cheerleader,” Bentz said.

“I hope legislators reviewing this AT&T bill (HB 825) will contact the PSC and give us an opportunity for input. AT&T employs great employees in Mississippi and I am sure they will tell you AT&T has become more and more like a corporate run robot organization. If AT&T wants a competitive advantage, I have three recommendations. Provide a quality service, listen to your customers and treat your customers as clients. And that does not take any legislation to accomplish.” Bentz concluded.

And here’s Presley’s:

Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley said today that House Bill 825 would totally strip the PSC of any authority to hold AT&T accountable for rate increases and lousy landline and cell phone coverage. Presley said the bill was requested by AT&T as retaliation against the PSC for denying a rate increase and for complaining of poor cellular and residential phone service. The PSC won a case in the Mississippi Supreme Court to limit charges to customers after AT&T appealed the PSC’s ruling.

“This bill is a corporate wish list that gives AT&T the permission to run over and take advantage of every single customer in Mississippi and no one can say one thing to them about it.” Presley said. “Complaints against AT&T have gone up dramatically over the past few years, yet this bill rewards them by taking the cop off the beat that is there to protect customers”

“It is hard to believe that the Legislature could honestly think that a company with such a terrible track record should be taken out from under the PSC’s authority” Presley added.

Presley said the Legislature passed the first phase of deregulation in 2006 an since then complaints to the Commission about billing errors, poor service and the like have risen from 1,735 in 2006 to 4,361 in 2011 an increase of over 150% .“This is evidence enough of why this bill is bad for consumers”.

Along with removing all of the Public Service Commission’s authority to investigate abuses, extortion and customer complaints, House Bill 825 also removes the Commission’s authority to designate conditions for AT&T’s receiving of millions in federal funds to promote rural cell phone service. Presley said the Commission’s authority to place conditions on those dollars has been the main tool to increase cell phone coverage in rural counties. “Rural Mississippi’s interest are gutted in this bill.” Presley said.

Presley said there should be extensive hearings held on this matter. “AT&T and their high paid lobbyists are spreading lies all around the Capitol, the Legislature should listen to the regulators who are here to protect the public.”