SEATTLE -- The Attorney General's Office today notified the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) that it opposes Verizon Northwest's request for a $29.7 million emergency increase to local telephone rates.
The Attorney General's Public Counsel section joined AARP and WebTEC in filing joint expert witness testimony opposing the hike. WebTEC is an association of large business consumers of telecommunications, and AARP is a non-profit membership organization and consumer advocate for people 50 and older.
Verizon's request for a nearly $30 million increase would amount to a $3.54 monthly rate hike to the basic charge for a phone line - that's a 27 percent increase for residential customers and a 12 percent increase for business customers. Verizon says the increase is needed because a loss of revenues from long distance carriers for access to its network has created a financial emergency.
The expert testimony contends that Verizon, the nation's largest telecommunications company, does not face a financial emergency. Verizon's finances are healthy and its Washington business generates sufficient cash flow to fund the company's requirements. "We see no evidence that Verizon faces an actual emergency," said Attorney General Christine Gregoire. "Washington consumers shouldn't be forced to pay more for basic telecommunications until a company can demonstrate a real need for an increase after a full review of its books."
If granted, the emergency rate hike would be in effect until May 2005 -until the UTC makes a decision on Verizon's larger request for a permanent increase of nearly $240 million, a 70 percent price hike for Washington customers.
Verizon serves about 850,000 lines in the state, including Everett and other locations in the north Puget Sound area, Pullman, the Tri-Cities and Wenatchee.
The UTC's decision on the $29.7 million increase is expected by early September.
Public Counsel has requested that a public hearing on the emergency rate increase be held in the Everett area.