Travieso warns of higher phone rates People's counsel opposes law on telecommunications

November 03, 1995|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Maryland's Office of People's Counsel Michael Travieso joined consumer groups yesterday in opposing a sweeping rewrite of the nation's telecommunications law now pending in Congress.

At a downtown news conference, Mr. Travieso warned that "there will be no control over monopoly profits" under either the House or the Senate versions of the legislation.

Unless, drastic revisions are made in Congress, he will urge President Clinton to veto the legislation, Mr. Travieso said.

Mr. Travieso's appearance yesterday marked one of the first occasions in which he has used his office to rally consumers' support on a controversial issue. Through his first year in the office, Mr. Travieso has kept a low profile -- in stark contrast with his outspoken predecessor, John Glynn.

The primary job of the people's counsel is to represent residential utility ratepayers' interests before the Public Service Commission, but previous occupants of the office have also used it as a bully pulpit from which to rally public opinion.

Mr. Travieso said yesterday that it took him most most of his first year on the job to master the complicated regulatory issues the people's counsel has to wrestle with. "There was a period of time when I had to get up to speed," he said. "I think I'm there now."

Charging that "rates are almost guaranteed to go up" under the legislation, Mr. Travieso took aim at provisions of the legislation that would pre-empt the power of state regulators -- including the Maryland PSC -- from regulating or even examining the profits of telephone monopolies.

The people's counsel said the bill also cancels state requirements that monopoly telephone carriers make detailed filings to support their rates. He said that provision would allow companies such as Bell Atlantic to subsidize competitive services by keeping prices artificially high on basic phone service.

Shannon Fioravanti, a Bell Atlantic spokeswoman, defended the legislation as a "balanced approach" to opening telecommunications markets to competition.

"We think the states and the federal government will be able to work in tandem to guide this competitive environment along," Ms. Fioravanti said.

The telecommunications legislation, which is supported by local telephone companies and cable companies and opposed by long-distance companies, has passed both the House and Senate by large margins and is now heading to a conference committee.

Also at the news conference yesterday were representatives of the Consumer Federation of America, the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, Citizen Action of Maryland and the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates.

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