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BACKGROUND - Hearings began today on an AT&T complaint urging the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC) to nearly eliminate the charges AT&T pays Verizon to complete long-distance calls over the Verizon network. These "access charges" have helped keep the prices West Virginians pay for local phone service affordable for years. The following statement should be attributed to Gale Given, president of Verizon West Virginia:
"AT&T is trying to increase its profits at the expense of West Virginians. AT&T pays access charges to Verizon for the opportunity to complete long-distance calls over Verizon's local phone network. Local phone networks are very expensive to install and maintain in rural states such as West Virginia.
"This access-charge structure has helped keep local phone service affordable over the years in the Mountain State. AT&T now wants the commission to virtually eliminate these charges.
"In fact, Verizon has proposed a $6 million reduction in access charges based on a cost study methodology agreed to years ago by AT&T and the PSC. No other party in this proceeding has performed a cost study that proves the reduction should be anything else.
"Verizon's access-charge reduction proposal is part of a balanced plan that, if adopted by the commission, will continue to bring West Virginians stable or lower rates and continued significant infrastructure investment. The proposal also will help fund statewide initiatives that in the past have fostered the WORLD SCHOOL and WEST VIRGINIA 2001 projects.
"Furthermore, the commission and West Virginians should not be lured into thinking that AT&T will pass savings from any reductions in access charges on to consumers. AT&T's track record on this in West Virginia and elsewhere is dismal. It decreases a rate here and raises a fee there.
"AT&T charges that Verizon is not using access-charge revenues for West Virginians' benefit. No other telecommunications company comes close to matching Verizon's investment in West Virginia. We spend $3 million a week on our Mountain State network, and West Virginians from Weirton to Williamson benefit from the reliability, features and value of Verizon telecommunications services.
"We hope the commission will see this for what it is - the country's largest telecommunications firm disguising a self-serving play as a consumer-friendly proposal."