Christie likely signals death of telecomm deregulation bill

Gov. Chris Christie likely signaled the end today of efforts to deregulate the telecommunications industry in New Jersey.

On a conference call with thousands of members of the AARP, Christie said he has “grave concerns” about the bill, adding that he feels it does not provide enough protection for seniors. Without Christie’s support Democrats have said they will not push the bill out of fear the governor would use it to bludgeon them with state seniors later.

Opponents of the bill have said it would cause dramatic rate hikes for users of basic landline service and could one day allow Verizon to jettison its landline business, while providing no protections for consumers once the sale is provided.

Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski said Wednesday the company would continue to try to work with the relevant parties to show why the bill is necessary to promote growth and jobs in the state. Verizon New Jersey President Dennis Bone has said repeatedly that deregulation of the industry would spark greater investment from the telecommunications giant, which would in turn spur job growth.

“Verizon is going to continue to have a dialog with the Senate leadership and with the governor’s office about why this bill is important to New Jersey and why we need to modernize the state’s telecommunications policy,” he said.

Verizon says the laws governing the industry were written a century ago and were meant to regulate a monopoly.  With the advent of more competition and new technology, the rules should be changed, officials say.

Gierczcynski said the company has worked hard to address the concerns of the AARP and its members, even going as far as to guarantee no rate increase on basic land line service for two years after the passage of the bill.  Other protections, such as the Lifeline service, which provides low-income customers with discounted service, would remain in effect.

AARP Governmental Affairs Manager Doug Johnston said he’s not ready to count the bill among the deceased.  Bills are like zombies, Johnston said, and often rise from the dead.

“Never underestimate the tenacity of a wily state senator like (bill sponsor) Senator Lesniak,” Johnston said. “I frankly think the proponents of this bill thoroughly underestimated AARP and I’m not going to underestimate the power of Senator Lesniak and the corporations that want this bill very badly.”

Christie likely signals death of telecomm deregulation bill