Saturday, July 17, 2004

Group wants phone plan explained

By Mike Boyer
Enquirer staff writer

The Ohio Consumers' Counsel and Communities United For Action asked state regulators Friday to clarify a provision in Cincinnati Bell Inc.'s recent alternative regulation plan that's costing 31,000 low-income residents a total of $164,000 a month.

At issue is Cincinnati Bell's request for a waiver of provisions for low-income residents to get lifeline discounts for phone service.

The lifeline discounts lower the cost of basic telephone service for needy people and can provide, for example, waivers for deposit fees or service activation fees.

In its June 30 ruling freezing Cincinnati Bell's basic phone rates and permitting higher rates for enhanced services such as call forwarding, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio said it was holding "in abeyance,'' or suspending, Bell's request for a waiver from lifeline requirements and objections to the waiver.

However Noel Morgan, attorney for the Consumer's Counsel, said the company is not granting the $5.25-a month in higher discounts to 31,000 lifeline customers, which would be required without the waiver.

"I looked in the dictionary, and if you ask for a waiver and it's in abeyance, you don't get the waiver - at least temporarily,'' Morgan said.

A Cincinnati Bell spokeswoman said the company hadn't seen the filings and couldn't comment.

In her motion, Consumers' Counsel Janine Migden Ostrander argued Cincinnati Bell's decision represented a $1.3 million annual windfall for the company.

She said Bell isn't playing by rules set by the public utilities commission for alternative regulation.


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