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Pac Bell loses round in ISDN fight

The California PUC refused the telco's request to change hearings on its rate increase.

Pacific Bell lost a round today in the long-running fight over its proposed ISDN rate increase.

A judge with the California Public Utility Commission ignored Pac Bell's request to cancel or modify next week's open hearings on the Baby Bell's proposed rate changes for the high-speed Internet service. Hearings will begin next Monday in San Francisco, moderated by commission administrative judge Kim Malcolm.

The utility commission of each state in a Baby Bell's region must sign off on any proposed tariff changes and has the right to hold public hearings on the subject before it makes its decision.

Pac Bell wants a new residential rate of $29.50 a month--an increase of $5--although it will throw in 200 free hours of evening and weekend usage. The installation fee would be set at $125, with no waiver available for long-term service commitment.

Submitted to the PUC on Friday, the proposal was endorsed by five other parties, including the California Cable Television Association, and the California ISDN Users' Group. But several others, including Compaq, Intel, and the Utility Consumer Action Network, still oppose the rate changes despite the significant increase in free off-peak hours.

Opponents of ISDN rate changes maintain that there should be no per-minute charges for Integrated Services Digital Network use and that a flat monthly fee of under $30 is sufficient for the telcos to earn a profit.

Pacific Bell is not the only Baby Bell hung up in squabbles over ISDN rates. In fact, at least one other utility commission has established a precedent for overriding a telephone company's rate proposals.

Bell Atlantic is also embroiled in hearings in several Eastern states over its proposed ISDN rate changes, which would impose a sliding scale, with ten free hours of full-speed, 128-kbps access for $31 a month. This in fact would reduced existing tariffs, but not as much as some consumer groups want, and in this case the Delaware Public Service Commission listened to those critics and approved an unlimited-use flat fee of $28.02 a month instead of Bell Atlantic's proposal.

Related stories:
Pac Bell pitches ISDN plan--finally
ISDN supporters lodge complaints