The Star-Ledger

Verizon N.J. President Vows To Not Raise Basic Telephone Rates For 2 Years

The Star-Ledger — Friday, March 18, 2011

By Megan DeMarco / Statehouse Bureau

TRENTON — The president of Verizon New Jersey, Dennis Bone, today pledged not to raise basic telephone rates for two years as the Senate prepares to vote Monday on a controversial bill that would significantly deregulate the telecommunications industry.

The bill, which was approved last month by the Assembly and is likely to pass in the Senate, removes regulations on the industry, which proponents say would modernize the state, making it more competitive and attractive to business. Consumer groups contend it would remove many of the protections that consumers depend on, and would cause telephone rates to soar.

In a letter obtained by The Star-Ledger, Bone wrote to Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union): "Verizon New Jersey will not increase the monthly rate for stand alone residential basic exchange service for two years, starting from the date that the legislation is signed into law. This commitment goes beyond the extensive protections for low-income customers already provided in the legislation."

An official from New Jersey Citizen Action said if Verizon is concerned about consumers, protection should be written into the legislation (S2664).

"Otherwise this is like the fox guarding the hen house," said the official, Ev Liebman. "A letter from a telephone and cable CEO is not worth much more than the paper it's written on,"

The letter came after a week of intense lobbying on both sides. Consumer advocates also sent out a letter today, this one to all 40 senators, which called the bill "an unnecessary and dangerous give-away to telephone and media corporations."

It's signed by 23 co-authors, including Ethan Ellis, director of Alliance for the Disabled in Action, and Jim Dieterle of AARP-NJ.

The legislation passed the Assembly 66-7 last month, and has bipartisan support in the Senate as well. Sweeney, a sponsor of the measure, said yesterday that the legislation calls for a study in two years, so lawmakers can track if the bill's intent is being met.

"I also appreciate Verizon working with me on agreeing to hold basic rates level for the next two years," he said. "Distorted claims and misinformation simply can't shield the fact that in the end, this bill offers more competition, greater economic opportunities, and protections for lower income customers."

If the Senate approves the legislation Monday, it will go to Gov. Chris Christie for his signature. At a news conference on Wednesday, he said generally supports the idea of deregulation but added that he hasn't studied the bill in detail.

"If they (pass the bill) we'll dig in and try to see whether there's an appropriate balance between the benefits of deregulation to the consumer and any additional costs that may come to the consumer from deregulation," Christie said.

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