Florida Legislature Passes Landmark Telecom Deregulation Bill
On May 1, 2003, the Florida House passed a landmark telecommunications deregulation bill. The Florida Senate had approved the bill on April 30. Governor Jeb Bush is expected to sign the bill in the near future.
The bill contains provisions to permit incumbent local carriers re-balance their rates by lowering high existing access charges (paid by long distance carriers), while increasing basic service rates paid by end users. This led to fierce opposition from consumer groups and others. In fact, however, in addition to stimulating long distance usage, these changes, when implemented, will indirectly stimulate local exchange competition by making it easier for new entrants to provide service at a remunerative price, below that established by the incumbent. The bill also effectively deregulates intrastate long distance service in Florida, placing those intrastate services on a footing similar to interstate long distance.
The bill contains several specific provisions of direct benefit to new competitors:
- First, the bill makes clear that “Voice over Internet Protocol,” or VoIP services, are not to be subject to traditional, legacy regulation. (It does not, however, exempt VoIP-based long distance services from intrastate access charges. That issue remains within the jurisdiction of the Florida PSC.)
- Second, the bill makes clear that local governments have no authority to regulate either “broadband services” or “information services” — which may turn out to include VoIP. In any case, this provision will be useful both to cable-affiliated and carrier-affiliated providers of high-speed Internet access via broadband connections.
- Third, the bill establishes an expedited procedure for handling claims that the incumbent local carrier is engaging in predatory pricing, including with respect to basic services.
The text of the bill — particularly the pro-competitive language relevant to local exchange and related markets — is the result of extensive negotiation among monopoly local carriers, competing local carriers, long distance carriers, and cable operator interests. Once the text was negotiated, the Florida Cable Telecommunications Association was instrumental in the success of several weeks of extremely intense lobbying to get the bill introduced, shepherded through committee, and enacted.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about how the new legislation may affect your business.