By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Northern District Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley will legally challenge a new state law stripping his agency of regulatory power over AT&T.
Presley, whose office is located in Nettleton, said he plans to file the suit as a private citizen in Hinds County Circuit Court. He has several pro-bono attorneys preparing the case, he said.
“It violates the state constitution,” Presley said of the bill during an interview with the Daily Journal on Tuesday. “There’s no doubt AT&T is the biggest in the state, and this bill will allow them to raise rates without any oversight at all.”
House Bill 825, which became law Sunday, removes the PSC’s authority to regulate local-only landline rates and to receive service and financial data from the telephone giant. It also removes AT&T’s requirement to be the carrier of last resort in rural areas that otherwise can’t get telephone service.
Some 30,000 local-only landlines remain in Mississippi. Previously, the PSC had rate authority over about 1 million landlines in the state, but a 2006 law deregulated those. Presley said he might challenge that law, too.
The 2012 bill’s author, state Rep. Charles Jim Beckett, R-Bruce, declined to comment on Presley’s anticipated lawsuit because he hasn’t seen it. He did say House attorneys had vetted the bill and cited no legal concerns.
As to Presley’s claims AT&T will raise rates and abandon rural areas, Beckett said he can’t predict the future but deemed both scenarios unlikely.
“If rates went up excessively, they’ll lose customers,” Beckett said, adding that new technology and increased competition already has eroded AT&T’s landline market in Mississippi.
“That customer base is going away no matter what AT&T does,” Beckett said. “This (law) is an effort to allow them to invest in the technologies the customers want.”