SPRINGFIELD - A telecommunications bill speeding through the Legislature this week hit a bump Thursday night when it narrowly failed in the state Senate, but won approval on a second vote this morning.
The bill would allow SBC to more than double the rates it charges for the use of its lines, which the company is required by law to lease to rival businesses.
The legislation was first discussed Monday, introduced Tuesday, passed the House Wednesday and won approval from a Senate committee early Thursday, making some lawmakers a little wary Thursday night.
"Why are we rushing this thing through here tonight?" asked Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, said there was plenty of debate on the bill, including two committee hearings this week lasting more than five hours.
SBC says the current rates, which were set by the Illinois Commerce Commission, do not cover its costs and are hurting the company's bottom line, putting the jobs of its 21,000 Illinois workers at stake.
"It's unfair to ask any company ... in Illinois to sell its services for less than it costs them," said Sen. Denny Jacobs, D-East Moline, who backed the bill.
Opponents said the rates don't need to be as high as SBC is claiming, and feel the General Assembly should not get involved in the issue when there is a case pending before the Illinois Commerce Commission to determine whether the rates need to be reset.
"I just think this bill goes too far," said Sen. Steve Rauschenberger, R-Elgin. "It removes discretion from the oversight agency. It overrides an existing case."
The Citizens Utility Board is against the bill, saying it would result in higher rates for residential and business customers, drive smaller companies out of business and reduce competition in the telecommunications marketplace.
"What this does is try to return to a monopoly here in Illinois," said Sen. Pat Welch, D-Peru.
Supporters said small companies would be protected from the rate increase for two years, and larger SBC competitors like AT&T and MCI should be able to absorb the wholesale rate increase without passing it on to their customers because they are currently making huge profits at SBC's expense.
"All they have to do to not raise rates is just take less profit," said Sen. Rickey Hendon, D-Chicago.
David Doty, a vice president at AT&T, disagreed, saying if the bill became law it would mean phone bills of up to $120 higher a year for Illinois families.
The measure now heads to the governor's desk for his signature.
You can reach Kate Clements at (217) 782-2486 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .