Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Ringgold Telephone Company’s customers may soon see their bills increase by between 20 and 40 percent.
Don’t blame RTC, blame AT&T, because raising rates is not something the local company wants.
AT&T and the Cable Television Association of Georgia have notified the state’s Public Service Commission, the agency that regulates rates, that RTC and several other small telephone companies are not charging enough for their services.
“Throughout our history, RTC has been committed to providing customers with the highest quality, most affordable telecommunications service available,” Alice Evitt Bandy, president and owner of Ringgold Telephone Company, said in a prepared statement. “Today, AT&T and CTAG are attempting to diminish RTC’s value as the premier provider of telecommunications service. We strongly oppose this anticompetitive attempt to raise our customers’ rates.”
RTC officials point out that a rate case usually is brought by a utility company seeking to increase the rates it charges, or by the PSC to reduce rates being charged by a company.
That is not the case in this instance. The PSC is conducting this rate case to investigate the fee schedule of RTC and the nearby Chickamauga Telephone Company solely based on AT&T’s allegations.
“I’ve been in the telephone business for more than 40 years and have never seen a rate case filed by somebody else on your behalf,” said RTC Executive Vice President Phil Erli. “Where else does a competitor get to dictate prices for its competitors?”
Erli said local companies like RTC and CTC must provide hardwire telephone service to anyone and everyone in their coverage area, as they are considered the provider of last resort.
Central to the issue is the requirement that all providers of a telecommunications service contribute to a pool of funds that subsidizes universal availability of telephone service. Companies like RTC draw from that pool to help install poles and wires throughout even the most sparsely populated areas of Catoosa County.
Not only is RTC, as the carrier of last resort, required to provide service to all, it must charge the same rate for those services regardless of how much it costs the company.
Erli used the Mt. Pisgah service area which covers about 16 square miles as an example. Providing 100 percent coverage means RTC maintains 44 miles of telephone line. That contrasts with the cable television provider that reaches 90 percent of the homes within those 16 square miles with about 3 miles of cable.
Boosting the cost of local telephone service could cause some residents to cancel their landline service — and possibly switch to cellular telephone service, such as that provided by AT&T.
As part of the PSC’s investigation into AT&T’s claims that telephone rates are too low, public hearings are being held in Chickamauga and Ringgold Monday, Aug. 13, so the public can express their opinions about the proposed rate hike.
One public hearing that day will begin at 4 p.m. inside the Chickamauga Civic Center, adjacent the Chickamauga Public Library, at 1817 Lee Clarkson Road. Another, in Ringgold, will begin at 7 p.m. in the Catoosa County Courthouse, on U.S. Highway 41/Nashville Street.
Anyone unable to attend these public hearings, as well as those who do, can express their opinion regarding these proposed rate increases by writing to Reece McAlister, executive secretary of the Georgia Public Service Commission, 244 Washington St. SW, Atlanta, Ga. 30334.