NC lawmakers may end local phone company oversight

Sixteen phone companies that provide service in North Carolina may soon be out from under the auspices of state regulators who oversee everything from prices to service standards after the state House voted overwhelmingly to end the decades-long regulation. The House vote to deregulate could make it easier for big players like AT&T and Embarq, and their smaller rivals, like Ellerbee Telephone and Pineville Telephone, to stay price competitive with wireless operators, cable companies and Internet providers who are not regulated.

Only basic, stand-alone residential service would still be regulated and therefore tied to adjustments for inflation. Wireless phones outnumber landlines in North Carolina 2-1, said an AT&T spokesman. Proponents say the bill levels the playing field for all telephone service providers in the state, but critics say the public will suffer.

"In theory, there is a great deal of competition out there. But most citizens don't know there is an opportunity to change their phone company," said Rep. Paul Luebke, (D-Durham). "Why would we want to deregulate. How are we benefiting consumers by deregulation?"

Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Nevada have passed similar legislation. A report last year by the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates was critical of the benefits to consumers from price deregulation efforts so far.

For more:
- read this Associated Press article at the Chicago Tribune's website

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