State moves to deregulate home phone service

OLYMPIA — Washington state officials are moving to deregulate pricing for home phone services, responding to the rise of new competition from wireless providers and the Internet.

In a decision this week, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission agreed to eliminate price regulation of landline services provided by Frontier Communications Northwest Inc. The company will still have to operate under consumer protection laws, and regulators have the option in the future of reversing the decision.

Brian Thomas, senior policy adviser for the UTC, told the Moscow-Pullman Daily News that Frontier is already losing market share and officials don’t believe the company will be able to raise prices.

“Doing so would simply hasten the exodus of customers to other platforms and providers, which is already happening,” Thomas said. He said the policies were necessary back in the 1980s when telephone companies were the only providers of phone service, but he noted that the market has changed.

Carl Gipson, Frontier’s manager for government affairs in Washington state, said the shift levels the playing field, allowing Frontier to more quickly move to compete with other companies instead of waiting for the UTC’s approval for price changes.

“We need a structure that allows us to be more nimble in our pricing. It’s important that we be allowed to operate on a day-to-day basis, based on how the market dictates,” Gipson said told the Daily News.

Gipson said it will take some time before customers see the difference.

“We still need to figure out what this new freedom means for us, but there won’t be any real changes for another month or two,” Gipson said. “We’ve got to figure out what we can do now that we couldn’t do before.”

Frontier initially filed the petition late last year. The company services about 320,000 landlines in Washington state.

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