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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Structural separation would slap Florida consumers in the face with confusion, service troubles and likely higher rates, Verizon Communications warned as the Florida Public Service Commission began a workshop today on the issue.
Verizon competitors, led by AT&T, hope to force structural separation of Bell South in Florida, dividing the company into two separate entities - one to sell wholesale services and one to sell retail services.
AT&T is pushing for structural separation at a time when Bell South, the largest telecommunications company in Florida, is seeking approval to sell long-distance service in the state. Approval of Bell South's long-distance entry would mean massive new competition for AT&T.
The Florida proposal is the latest of numerous structural separation forays by AT&T, which recently hit Florida customers with nearly a $2 rate hike. So far, no state has agreed that Bell South, Verizon or any other local phone company should be required to split their retail and wholesale operations in two.
''AT&T's effort to structurally separate Bell South in Florida would lead to a domino effect of confusion, rate increases and job losses and has no more relevance here than it did in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Illinois or Virginia,'' said John Blanchard, president, southeast region, Verizon. ''Those states rejected this bogus concept by seeing structural separation for what it is - an anti-competitive ploy by AT&T to keep others out of the long-distance market. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission has considered and turned aside the idea of structural separation four times since 1984.''
Blanchard suggested that more participants in long-distance would lead to greater savings and choices for Florida consumers and encourage the very competition AT&T claims is lacking. ''Our experience in New York and Massachusetts shows that when AT&T stops wasting everyone's time and energy on these foolish filings and starts competing, consumers ultimately are the winners. That is exactly what happened in these states when we won long-distance approval.''
Verizon currently offers long-distance service in Florida, as well as 37 other states. Citing the competitive environment that already exists, Blanchard said that Florida ranks as one of the top five states for telephone competition in local markets. Florida boasts twice the national average level for competitive local exchange company activity, according to a study from The Eastern Management Group, a consulting firm based in Bedminster, N.J.
''I hope our participation in these proceedings will help the Florida PSC understand AT&T's true motivation behind structural separation,'' said Blanchard. ''The hit-and-miss nature of this effort, sometimes Bell South, sometimes Verizon, leads to only one conclusion - AT&T will try anything to avoid competition and protect its long-distance market. We are confident that Florida's leadership will see through this sham and will reject this flawed concept.''
Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) is one of the world's leading providers of communications services. Verizon companies are the largest providers of wireline and wireless communications in the United States, with 112 million access line equivalents and 27 million wireless customers. Verizon is also the largest directory publisher in the world. A Fortune 10 company with more than 260,000 employees and approximately $65 billion in annual revenues, Verizon's global presence extends to more than 40 countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia and the Pacific. For more information on Verizon, visit www.verizon.com