The Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce is apparently endorsing a new regulatory program that could result in higher telephone bills for Oklahoma business customers.
The State Chamber's Richard Rush issued a press release Tuesday touting regulatory changes that Southwestern Bell is currently seeking. It also criticized an independent report commissioned by the Oklahoma State Senate that raised a number of serious concerns about the regulatory plan.
"I was surprised to see the State Chamber endorse a program that could be so costly for its members. Basically, the State Chamber is backing an initiative that will guarantee annual rate hikes on business customers. I don't see how that can be in the best interest of Chamber members," said Senator Stratton Taylor.
The Senate report indicated that Bell, not consumers, is likely to be the biggest beneficiary of the proposed regulatory plan. Among other things, the report documented that the initiative could strengthen Bell's monopoly status, eliminate any substantive state oversight and stick customers with inflated rates that could be raised each year at the rate of inflation.
"By supporting the Bell plan, it looks like the State Chamber is saying that it supports annual telephone rate hikes for its members. If the Chamber gets its way, Oklahoma business people will be paying higher telephone bills year after year after year," noted Senator Taylor.
The Senate leader said he's disappointed by the Chamber's unusual stance on the Southwestern Bell plan, but he noted that this isn't the first time the Chamber has adopted an anti-business position.
Earlier this year, for example, the State Chamber surprised observers when it actually argued against a reduction in workers compensation rates for Oklahoma businesses. As a result, state regulators approved the first comp rate hike in almost eight years.
"I never thought the State Chamber would be synonymous with 'anti-business,' but given the bewildering positions they have adopted in recent months, that's about the best way to describe the organization," said Senator Taylor.
The State Chamber claims to represent approximately 1,400 business members, 62 trade associations and 91 local chambers of commerce.
"I think the message should be pretty clear to small business people who are chamber members. If you're not a big workers compensation insurance company or Southwestern Bell, you can't look to the State Chamber for any kind of effective representation. That, unfortunately, is the sad truth in Oklahoma," said Senator Taylor.