YOUR OPINION: March 13, 2012

By NEMS Daily Journal

Phone customers facing less advocacy choice
A bill in the Mississippi Legislature described as “free market deregulation” for a competitive telephone market will, in fact, have the opposite effect. All Mississippians stand to lose if ATamp&T succeeds in passing House Bill 825.
That’s because the bill undoes an existing Mississippi-based structure that lets Mississippi watch out for Mississippi telephone customers. Under the bill, consumers lose affordable service, and they have to turn to Washington, DC for their complaint and oversight of service quality. We all know how that will work. It won’t.
First, AARP fundamentally opposes this bill because no longer will every Mississippian be guaranteed affordable telephone service. Thousands of Mississippians – an estimated 30,000 – today have “affordable” telephone service because state law continues to keep the lid on the price of basic, stand alone service. Now, though, ATamp&T wants to claim that all consumers have competitive phone service, including those who forego all the extra bells and whistles on their phone service. AARP disagrees. Customers in hard-to-serve areas will have no recourse if their phone bills suddenly double, or if ATamp&T decides it’s simply not worth the trouble to keep operating a line into the rural corners of our state.
Second, the bill takes our local regulators, the Mississippi Public Service Commission, out of the picture. The PSC, which is elected by Mississippi voters today, has authority to act as Mississippi’s telephone service referee. However, HB 825 effectively kicks our own local elected officials off our field, potentially forcing Mississippians to turn to the bureaucracy of the Federal Communications Commission or the federal district courts to resolve their problems.
ATamp&T is arguing that in today’s free market, they shouldn’t be regulated. It sounds good, on the surface. But, the facts on the ground don’t support the sound bites. ATamp&T is still benefiting from the legacy of the monopoly market. The company controls over 700,000 landlines in the state.
HB 825 is bad policy for Mississippi consumers. That is why the AARP is against this bill. That is why two of the Public Service Commissioners – one Republican and one Democrat – are against the bill; and it is why the third is at least calling for lawmakers to slowdown. And that is why you should be against the bill too.
Sherri Davis-Garner
Senior State Director
AARP Mississippi
sfdavis@aarp.org.

Blind Mississippians need stronger law
I am writing as President of The National Federation of the Blind of Mississippi in regards to the amendments proposed to the Mississippi Blind Persons’ Literacy Rights and Education Act.
I urge you to support the amendments as they stand to provide for competent teachers for the blind and visually impaired, provide textbooks on time, and align the state with the federal law requiring the presumed reading media of all students with acuity of 20/200 to be Braille readers until proven otherwise. The current bill is not aligned with the federal law and should be changed immediately. Mississippi started asking teachers through law to show competency in Braille in the 1995 bill and currently 17 years later teachers in the field of blindness education have yet to be required to show competency in Braille.
This is not setting the bar too high for teachers currently in the field and those to enter the field; it is a minimal level of competency that is being asked for. This is an injustice to blind and low vision students that need competent teachers.
The bill requires the State Department of Education to provide textbooks to blind and low vision students. With the addition to have publisher to provide electronic files, the number of hard copy textbooks for blind and low vision would be less. The books could be downloaded to electronic devices or computers and provide the student with access to the full curriculum as required by federal law.
Sam Gleese
President NFB of Mississippi, Jackson
sgleese@city.jackson.ms.us