Sen. Vincent J. Fumo

District Office

1208 Tasker Street
Phila, PA 19148

Harrisburg Office

545 Main Capitol
Hbg, PA 17120



________________NEWS RELEASE
State Senator

1st Senatorial District
Democratic Appropriations Committee Chairman
Room 545 Main Capitol, Harrisburg PA 17120
Internet Website:

PHONE: 717-787-5662


HARRISBURG, June 12, 2000 -- Three state senators who have participated in the legal proceedings concerning local telephone competition today filed a response to Bell Atlantic Pennsylvania Inc.'s attempts to have them dismissed from the case.

In an answer submitted to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Senators Vincent Fumo (D-Philadelphia), Roger Madigan (R-Bradford) and Mary Jo White (R-Venango) argued that they have the right to remain in the proceedings both as individual utility customers and in their official capacity as members of the General Assembly.  They also asked for an expedited ruling so that any doubt over their ability to continue advocation for true local telephone competition could be quickly resolved.

"As a duly elected member of the Pennsylvania Senate, I have an absolute right to present my views to any administrative agency on any matter of public concern," said Madigan. AI will not allow Bell Atlantic or any other company to silence me or to prevent me from representing the interests of my district."

The issue of the senators' participation is currently before Administrative Law Judge Wayne Weismandel, who has been assigned to the case that will determine how to structurally separate Bell Atlantic's retail operations from its wholesale division. Bell Atlantic petitioned the PUC on June 1 to have the three senators removed from the proceedings, as well as to disqualify their legal counsel, Christopher Craig.

The senators have been the leading proponents of requiring Bell to divorce its wholesale operation -- the part of the company that maintains the telephone network -- from its retail arm -- the part that markets telephone services. They believe such separation is essential as the state enters a new telecommunications era in which a wide variety of consumer and business services will be offered by telecommunications companies.

The PUC agreed with the senators and ordered the structural separation of Bell last year. That order is under appeal by Bell, which holds a virtual monopoly over local phone service to a large percentage of the state's population.

"We have been involved in this issue before the Commission for almost two years. Only now, after we successfully championed the concept of structural separation, does the company try to eliminate our right to argue our case before the Commission," White said.

AI view this as nothing more than an act of panicked desperation," Fumo said. AI continue to be astounded by the lengths this company will go to to silence public criticism of its anti-competitive behavior.'

Fumo noted that while the company, in its petition, challenged the right of public officials to participate in the case, it is using its customers' money to defend its monopoly.

"It is particularly offensive to know that Bell has retained no less than three politically connected law firms to attack the PUC's order favoring structural separation and its implementation. A large amount of ratepayer money has been spent by the company in its litigation strategy of delay," Fumo said.

He believes an investigation by the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure committee into such use of ratepayer money might be warranted.

In their answer filed today, the senators said the most prominent deficiency of Bell's argument is the fact that they have been deeply involved in the telecommunications proceedings for two years, and that their participation during that time has never been challenged until now. Arguments and expert testimony that the senators presented to the commission formed the basis on which significant portions of the PUC order have been crafted.

They also responded to Bell's arguments challenging their rights to enter the cases as individuals or as elected officials. Bell has claimed that as individual ratepayers, the senators' interests should be represented only by the state Office of Consumer Advocate. Documents filed today cite legal rulings in which courts have held that holding elected office is 'no barrier' to personally challenging a PUC order. They also cite statutes explicitly stating that nothing contained in the powers of the Consumer Advocate "shall in any way limit the right of any consumer to bring a proceeding before either the commission or a court."

Today's filing also cited flaws in Bell's arguments that the senators are prevented from appearing before the PUC in their official capacity, noting several instances in which Bell misinterpreted or misapplied court rulings on similar matters. It further cited cases in which courts throughout the country have permitted senators and representatives to participate in cases involving the manner in which legislative mandates are applied by executive agencies. (The state enacted a law to promote local telephone competition in 1993.)

In addition, it cited the Public Utility Code, which allows intervention in cases when the participation of the petitioner may be in the public interest.

The senators refuted the claim that Craig should not be allowed to represent them because he is a public employee by pointing out that he is not representing them in a private or personal matter in which they seek individual gain, but instead is representing them on a matter of public policy as allowed by Senate rules.

"I believe that Bell Atlantic's true objective is to raise as many procedural issues as possible in this litigation now, so they can attack the Commission's final decision on appeal," Fumo said.

I have witnessed many strange things in my time as an elected official," Madigan said, Abut I cannot recall any state corporation acting as arrogantly and recklessly as Bell Atlantic."

"The ability of members of the General Assembly to participate in such matters is clearly in the public interest. Bell Atlantic should not underestimate our commitment to represent the needs of our districts in this proceeding," White said.


Copyright 2000 Sen. Vincent J. Fumo