The District of Columbia Public Service Commission postponed action yesterday on a phone company request to offer a new service option that would charge customers according to the time, distance and duration of local calls.
The postponement means that the commission may not rule for perhaps a year or more on C&P Telephone's request for so-called measured-rate service.
The company has been eager to offer the option, arguing that such service more closely reflects the true costs of calls and could save some consumers money. It has emphasized that customers still could select fixed rate service, if they wished.
The proposal has been opposed, however, by consumer advocates, senior citizen groups, the Communications Workers of America and the D.C. people's counsel. They argue that it would be more expensive for most consumers in the long run.
In deferring action yesterday, the commission directed C&P to add its measured rate request to its "next general rate increase application." A commission official said the company could interpret that as referring to such an application which was filed this week.
In that petition, C&P asked for the biggest phone rate increase in city history: a $67.7 million rise that would, among other things, raise by 72 percent the cost of the most commonly used local residential service, unlimited calls throughout the metropolitan area.
Adding the measured-rate issue to the rate increase case would allow time to more fully investigate the proposal and to examine its advantages and disadvantages, the commissioners said. It also would postpone a decision for up to one year and possibly longer, depending on how long it takes the commission to process and decide the rate case. The latest telephone case lasted 20 months.
Brian Lederer, D.C. people's counsel, said he wasn't surprised by the commission action. "It makes sense to do it that way include the request in the general rate case ," he said.
But telephone company officials expressed disappointment that the question wasn't decided immediately. "We would have much preferred a favorable decision today," said Web Chamberlin, a public relations representative for the company. "It measured-rate service is an option and it would benefit some of our customers. A delay of the decision means a delay of those benefits."
Meanwhile, Lee A. Satterfield, C&P general counsel, said the company "probably" will add its measured-service request to the current general rate petition.