The debate over Pacific Bell's plans to raise high-speed ISDN rates will heat up again next week when a judge considers the pricing proposal.
Administrative law judge Kim Malcolm will hold a hearing to review her November ruling that Pac Bell shouldn't be allowed to raise rates. Her final recommendation could be forwarded to the California Public Utilities Commission in time for a vote on either January 13 or January 23, ending a nearly year-long struggle.
The case is being closely watched by other state regulators and Baby Bells, where similar rate increases are being considered.
Malcolm will meet with Pac Bell, as well as computer industry companies led by Intel that have opposed the increase. It could be Pac Bell's last chance to prove its case for increasing rates.
"Pacific Bell says the draft would translate to prices that are higher than it initially asked for," she said today. "My goal is to understand how my proposal will truly effect pricing and advise the commissioners on what I've learned."
The computer industry and consumer groups continued to fight the proposed price hike, arguing that it would stifle the growing demand for Internet access. This summer, Pac Bell proposed a compromise to end the dispute but later withdrew it.
The meeting follows Malcolm's preliminary ruling on November 22, which concluded that Pacific Bell hadn't demonstrated why it should be allowed to raise rates for Integrated Services Digital Network connections. Her draft ruling stated that Pac Bell should retain the current rate of $24.50 per month instead of the $32.50 that the utility had proposed. She also recommended off-peak usage at no additional charge for up to 200 hours, instead of the 20 hours proposed by Pac Bell.
Besides Intel, companies including Compaq Computer and the Utility Consumer Action Network applauded Malcolm's ruling.
In her 39-page decision, Malcolm also found deficiencies in Pac Bell's ISDN customer and installation service, and she proposed improvements to be made by March 1997. One of them: that Pac Bell agree to install an ISDN line within ten days or offer a discount.
Many Pac Bell customers have complained that it takes weeks to get an ISDN line installed, although the company says it has improved its service.