Verizon Promises No Phone Hikes For 2 Years — Saturday, March 19, 2011

By Megan DeMarco / Statehouse Bureau

The president of Verizon New Jersey pledged Friday not to raise basic telephone rates for two years as the state 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 make the state more competitive and attractive to business. Consumer groups contend it would remove many protections consumers depend on and would cause telephone rates to soar.

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

"Otherwise this is like the fox guarding the henhouse," 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 sent a letter Friday to all 40 senators, calling the bill "an unnecessary and dangerous give-away to telephone and media corporations."

The legislation passed the Assembly 66-7 last month and has bipartisan support in the Senate. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, a sponsor of the measure, said Friday the bill calls for a study in two years, so lawmakers can track if its 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, it will go to Governor Christie for his signature. On Wednesday, he said he generally supports 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.

Copyright 2011 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

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