FUMO WILL OPPOSE CONFIRMATION OF BLOOM TO PUC
HARRISBURG, March 15, 2000 - State Senator Vincent J. Fumo (D-Philadelphia) announced today that he will vigorously oppose the confirmation of Robert Bloom to another term on the Public Utility Commission (PUC.)
Fumo said Bloom's actions have clearly demonstrated that he has prejudged the pending telecommunications case in favor of Bell Atlantic and that he is against competition that will benefit telephone customers. His nomination was an obvious favor to Bell Atlantic.
"Make no mistake, if Commissioner Bloom is confirmed, he will always be a vote for the utility monopoly of Bell Atlantic, and will not look out for the interests of consumers," Fumo said.
Fumo pointed out that Bell Atlantic has expended considerable sums to advance its political agenda, and Bloom's nomination to the Commission is simply the latest example of the political dividends the company has gained.
Bloom, who is about to conclude a five-year term on the Commission, was renominated for another term last Friday by Gov. Tom Ridge. A majority vote of the state Senate is required for confirmation.
Bloom has never voted against Bell Atlantic on any substantive matter since he has been a PUC member. Most recently, he was the lone dissenting vote last summer when the PUC ordered Bell Atlantic to separate its wholesale and retail operations and provide competitors with fair access to the telephone network.
Fumo considers separation of the company critical to breaking Bell Atlantic's monopoly position. Without it, Bell's potential competitors are at a severe disadvantage when trying to attract customers. Similarly, they are at a financial disadvantage when trying to price their services competitively if they must pay unreasonably high network access fees to Bell. That prevents consumers from receiving the best price possible.
Furthermore, recent articles in the Patriot-News of Harrisburg have reported that sworn statements filed in the telecommunications litigation have indicated that Bloom engaged in ex parte conversations with representatives of MCI, in which he urged MCI to support a settlement proposed by Bell Atlantic. After making that request, Bloom raised the point that MCI had a merger case with Sprint pending before the Commission.
When confronted with allegations that he contacted MCI to pressure the company to support Bell Atlantic's revision to the PUC order, Bloom denied to a newspaper reporter "even discussing anything with MCI."
Such conduct casts of shadow of impropriety over the PUC.
Fumo said he did not believe the Commissioner when he said he never even discussed anything with MCI. The company has absolutely nothing to gain and everything to lose by admitting under oath that the conversation occurred.
T he Code of Ethics applicable to members of the Commission is abundantly clear that they are to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
" We certainly do not tolerate such conduct from our judges. Why should this behavior by our Commissioners be accepted?" Fumo said. "The most critical element for a Commissioner is his or her impartiality. Once the Commissioner's conduct calls that into question, that credibility is lost, and the faith the public has in the Commission is destroyed."
Bell Atlantic has been engaged in an extensive effort in Harrisburg over the past year to avoid opening up local phone service to competition. At the same time, Bell is seeking approval to merge with the second-largest phone company in the state, GTE, to create an even stronger monopoly. It is also attempting to win the right to offer long distance service, which it cannot do under federal law unless the PUC verifies that local phone service is genuinely competitive.
"Bell Atlantic is using all of its muscle in the Capitol to solidify its monopoly position," Fumo said. "At a time when our economy is becoming increasingly tied to the quality of our telecommunications service, we need PUC members who are committed to giving business and residential consumers the most modern, up-to-date service at the best price. Competition is the most efficient means of delivering these benefits."
Fumo said Bloom has consistently voted against rural and ratepayer interests - not only was he the only member of the Commission to oppose the widely supported "Global Order," but he has consistently approved rural Telephone Company Chapter 30 plans that provide little commitment for improved modern services to residential and small business customers.
As a party to the so-called Global Telecommunications case, Fumo has argued that Bell Atlantic should be forced to open up the local market to competition before it can enter the long distance market. He also opposes the Bell-GTE merger as being anti-competitive.
Bloom's nomination has been referred to the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee. It is not a coincidence that his nomination was sent to the Senate late in the day last Friday when it would get the least amount of attention from the news media It is apparent that his nomination is being expedited - a hearing has been set for April 26.
"I recognize that it will be very difficult to block his nomination, since he only needs the approval of a majority of the Senators, but I will continue to say what has been commonly understood but not spoken, that Commissioner Bloom will continue to defend Bell Atlantic's monopoly status in the Commonwealth," Fumo said.
Copyright 2000 Sen. Vincent J. Fumo