- Associated Press - Thursday, February 20, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Calling the state’s utility regulatory board to complain about home or business phone service will soon come to an end. The Alabama Senate voted 33-0 Thursday to give final approval to a bill that does away with the Public Service Commission’s authority to handle complaints about landline phones. The bill cleared the House two weeks ago 86-5 and now goes to Gov. Robert Bentley. His communications director, Jennifer Ardis, said Bentley supports the bill and plans to sign it into law.

The PSC doesn’t regulate cellphones and Internet-based phone service. The Legislature had already ended the PSC’s control of rates for landline phones in homes and business. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Mike Hill of Columbiana, called the discontinuation of the complaint process “the final leg of deregulation.”

The state’s largest phone company, AT&T, pushed the legislation. The president of AT&T; Alabama, Fred McCallum, told legislators last month that regulation is no longer needed because the industry has gone from a monopoly to a highly competitive marketplace where disgruntled customers have alternatives. He said customers can change services quickly if they are unhappy.

Senate Majority Leader Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, said, “This put AT&T on a level playing field with other carriers.”

PSC President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh said Thursday she did not take a position on the bill because the PSC is a creation of the Legislature and will do what the Legislature directs. She said customers who don’t know where to turn for help with problems can keep calling the PSC, and the PSC will provide the appropriate number at AT&T or other landline phone companies to call to handle their concerns.

“We will provide the best service possible within the law,” she said.

The PSC reported it received 749 complaints about phone service last year that resulted in investigations by the staff. Of those, 588 involved AT&T. The PSC said that’s because the company provides about 70 percent of Alabama’s landlines and not because its customers had more problems.