AARP State Director

While listening to SBC present the case to deregulate its local telephone service before the Oklahoma Corporation Commission on June 23 and 24, I was reminded of my favorite childhood board game ? Monopoly. The object of this Parker Brothers classic, as described on the game's official website, is to?never let an opponent off the ropes. That is in essence what SBC Oklahoma is trying to do in its request for deregulation. But AARP Oklahoma urges the state Corporation Commission to reject SBC's bid to "Pass Go."

Currently, SBC controls nearly 86 percent of market share for local telephone service in Oklahoma. A hint of competition exists in only a handful of exchanges, primarily in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. SBC, however, claims that competition does exist, especially when you include wireless phone services. But one of the largest wireless providers in the state, Cingular, is a subsidiary of SBC, and Cingular has already swallowed up AT--T wireless, a former competitor. Besides, AARP research shows that consumers consider wireless service as a complement, not a substitute, for wireline service. Sufficient competition to constrain SBC Oklahoma's prices for basic residential service does not yet exist. Even so, a new set of agency rules that become reality July 1 give SBC significant regulatory relief.

In Kansas, SBC claimed that competition was vibrant enough in Wichita, Kansas City and Topeka to deregulate telephone service in those cities. The Kansas Corporation Commission, however, decided that there was not enough competition at this time and denied SBC's request. Wichita, Topeka, and Kansas City each have populations over 100,000. Yet when the KCC thoroughly examined the extent of competition in these cities, they found that competition for stand-alone basic service was not sufficient enough for it to be deregulated.

Oklahomans deserve to be treated as well as those in Kansas. That means SBC should have to prove that there is effective competition ? not just for high end, bundled services, but also for stand alone basic service ? prior to deregulation. Otherwise, SBC will be able to force consumers to pay more for their current services or to pay for bundles of services that they neither need nor want.

Consumers depend on telecommunications services for making contact in an emergency, to keep up with family and friends, for e-mail and surfing the Internet. Any changes made to the regulation of telecommunications services have implications for all consumers, what they pay for telecommunications services, and potentially what they use as well.

In the end, if we are to liken SBC's deregulation request to a game of Monopoly, thousands of Oklahoma consumers stand to lose because SBC will own both Boardwalk and Park Place, giving it the power to raise rates on anyone at anytime.

Nancy Coffer is state director of AARP Oklahoma. She can be reached at 126 N. Bryant Avenue, Edmond, OK 73034 or by e-mail at ncoffer@aarp.org.

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