The Virginia Senate yesterday approved a bill prohibiting the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. from forcing businesses to pay extra for local telephone calls lasting more than five minutes.
The Senate voted 24 to 15 kill the C&P proposal although the utility had withdrawn its request before the State Corporation Commission Tuesday night because it feared the Senate would approve the House-passed bill, a C&P spokesman said. The measure now goes to the governor for his signature.
When it learned the Senate probably would kill all hopes for its proposal -- mainly because it would mean higher bills for many businesses -- C&P lobbyists pushed for a resolution to turn the matter over to a committee for more study. But the Senate also rejected that attempt yesterday.
"The company believes the measured-service proposal is in the public interest," said C&P spokesman Bob Givler in Richmond. The company wanted the legislators "to review and study the concept. Don't strike the panic button. Think about it," Givler added.
The telephone company had proposed making it mandatory for all businesses to use timed-message service which would cost $11.50 for a 50-call limit each month. Calls would be limited to five minutes and those over that time would cost 6.8 cents for each additional five minutes, Givler said.
In addition, all calls made over the 50-call limit would cost 8 cents each. The plan would equalize treatment of business customers, forcing companies who use phone service more to pay more, Givler said.
Virginia businesses now have the option of using unlimited telephone service for $25.95 a month or the 50-call-limit service without a time limit on each call.
Northern Virginia businesses have been charged different rates for calls after the first 50 for years, Givler said.
Del. Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax), who introduced the bill in the House, said C&P's proposal "would have had a serious impact on the business community.... People are tired of having these types of systems imposed on them without their say."
Saslaw said that the phone company "was going to penalize all businesses, and I felt that would be unfair."
Saslaw added that, although the utility said it was trying to make big phone users pay more, the phone company through its advertisements actually encourages businesses to use the telephone.
"Businesses aren't going to cut down these calls," Saslaw said. "They have to make phone calls to survive."
State Sen. Clive L. DuVal (D-Fairfax) spoke against the telephone company's proposal yesterday, saying that he favored the concept on a voluntary basis and that he received numerous letters from businesses opposing it, an aide said.