Deregulation without representation

A consumer-rights protest in Reno sparked interest in Nevada Bell’s recent request to enter the long-distance telephone service market.

The phone company hasn’t done what it should have to make competition possible at a local level, critics say. That’s why Nevada’s Public Utilities Commission should think long and hard before approving the company’s foray into long-distance service.

“[Nevada Bell] says it’s done everything it had to do,” says Christine Milburn of Nevadans for Local Phone Competition, one of the consumer groups that staged protests in mid-August. “We say that’s not true. Use your local phone book and see if you can get local service from any other company.”

Nevada Bell representatives say the company has done what it could to make local competition possible. Milburn says that those who’ve tried to compete haven’t been successful.

To illustrate Nevada Bell’s business model, you don’t need to look much past the Internet service provider market in Reno. When it rolled out new, super-fast digital subscriber line services, Nevada Bell offered deals that couldn’t be beat. Though the company was, by law, forced to let local ISPs in on the DSL upgrades, the company saw to it that few of the smaller companies would survive. First, Nevada Bell charged large sums to get the ISPs tapped in. Then the company nabbed the ISPs’ customers by offering hard-to-beat low monthly prices, free DSL modems and free installation.

About 400 individuals, from consumers to small ISPs, have joined the NLPC, Milburn says.

"We’re not against deregulation," she says. "We’re against a monopoly that doesn’t open up to competition. All we really want is public hearings [with the PUC]. We don’t want the same thing to happen here with phone service as happened in California with electrical deregulation. They didn’t get public input, and look what happened there."