House limits state oversight of new telecom services

ATLANTA - New communications technologies in Georgia would be allowed to continue developing with minimal interference from state regulators under legislation passed by the House Wednesday.

The bill, which passed 157-4, already had won approval in the Senate. Gov. Sonny Perdue's desk is its next and final step on the way to becoming law.

The legislation prohibits the Georgia Public Service Commission from setting rates or conditions for delivery of three types of emerging communications technologies: broadband, voice-over Internet and wireless.

Those services are growing so quickly in Georgia that they should be able to regulate themselves, Rep. Jeff Lewis, chairman of the House Committee on Public Utilities and Telecommunications, told House members before the vote.

"Market-based competition in these technologies has already benefited consumers with more choices and lower prices,'' said Lewis, R-Cartersville.

Several Democrats expressed concerns that the bill would take away the PSC's ability to protect consumers.

"If I have a problem with my cell phone, who will I call?'' asked Rep. Gail Buckner, D-Jonesboro.

Lewis said the bill still would give the PSC jurisdiction over customer complaints.

Democrats also questioned whether any consumer organizations had endorsed the legislation.

Telecommunications companies, including BellSouth, have been the driving force behind the proposal.

But Lewis said a legislative study committee that examined the issue last year included members of consumer groups as well as representatives of the communications industry.

He said half a dozen other states have passed similar legislation and are seeing hundreds of millions of dollars in investment in the new technologies as a result.