Statewide Toll-Free Calling Plan Debate Heats Up
By Kirsten McIntyre, NEWS 9
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma Corporation Commission could take up a highly controversial issue on March 29.
The agency's Telecommunications Department is recommending to commissioners an Oklahoma statewide toll-free calling plan. The plan would make calling anywhere in the state free.
However, if the plan passes, anyone who uses a phone- whether landline, cellular or voice over Internet protocol customers- would pay a little more than $3 each month per line.
"This is only a proposal of the Telecommunications Department staff. The commissioners have not had any proposal brought before them. They have no opinion on a proposal simply because they haven't had a proposal to look at yet," said Matt Skinner, spokesperson for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
Oklahoma Corporation Commission Chairman Bob Anthony previously stated he is for the idea.
"Why can you call toll-free nationwide with your cell phone, but you can't call statewide toll-free with your landline at home or at work?" Anthony told NEWS 9 in January. "Don't tell me it can't be done. The question is, 'Why haven't we done it sooner and why can't we move forward?'"
Andy Morgan is a spokesperson with AT&T and said the service provider is fighting against the proposal. He said there's legal debate over whether the commission even has authority over cell phone companies.
"This plan would levy a tax surcharge fee on every phone number in this state, wireless, landline, cell, Internet, whatever it is," Morgan said. "If you're a wireless customer, say you have a family plan, you have four numbers in your family plan. That's $3 a month on each of those four numbers."
Ron Comingdeer said he is for a toll-free Oklahoma calling plan. He represents 25 rural phone companies who think this is needed to grow rural Oklahoma.
"It gives the customers in rural Oklahoma some benefits that the customers in urban Oklahoma have had for years," Comingdeer said. "We're trying to do everything we can to make rural Oklahoma a viable place to live so businesses can come there, for the schools to continue to grow, and without it this ad valorem tax base could go way, and I think that would continue to erode rural costumers."
There will be a meeting Wednesday morning between staff members and industry representatives to discuss a proposed plan. The meeting will be at 10 a.m. at the Corporation Commission and is open to the public.