Phoning in reform

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Missouri legislators should take a good, hard look at intrastate telephone access rates and then proceed to bring them into line over a period of several years with the interstate rates set by the Federal Communications Commission.

Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota have the highest intrastate access rates in the nation, ranging upward of 15 cents in some cases, and creating a disparity that can affect investment supporting innovation and improvement by those companies that keep their access charges low.

Here is an example provided by AT&T: A long-distance, land-line telephone call from Joplin to New York City would require that AT&T pay an access rate of one-half cent per minute to the network receiving the call. That rate was set by the FCC for all telephone companies.

But there is no federal requirement on intrastate rates. Companies charge what they want, resulting in wide disparities. According to AT&T, a land-line call by one of its customers from Joplin to Sarcoxie would have AT&T paying about 8 1/2 cents per minute to the receiving service. On the flip side, however, the network in Sarcoxie would pay about 3 cents per minute in access fees to AT&T on a call to Joplin.

That example, however, might not apply to intrastate calls made from Joplin to Bethany, Cape Girardeau or Maryville. They might even be higher, lower or the same. The reason: Rates are unequal.

Missourians have been interested in promoting competition in the communications industry in their desire to reduce prices, to provide greater choices and encourage new technology. Legislators could do that, we believe, by phasing in reform and bringing down artificially high rates. It is the right thing to do.

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