City Council member Polly Shackleton has strongly attacked the telephone company's proposed $82 million rate increase and its concerted campaign to begin the so-called Optional Measured Service (OMS) here that would bill local phone calls as if they were long distance.
In a stinging letter to the Public Service Commission, made public Monday, Shackleton (D-Ward 3) blasted the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. rate request as "excessive, complicated and unfairly burdensome upon the residential customers" and charged that C&P has overstated its revenue needs.
A spokesman for C&P said Monday he had not seen Shackleton's letter but defended the rate changes scheduled to be heard next month by the PSC.
Shackleton said in her letter there is "strong opposition from many of my constituents" to both the rate increase and OMS, which the company failed to get approved last year under the title "measured rate service."
Shackleton said her three-page letter was prompted by newspaper reports on C&P's earnings and growing national concerns that the planned divestiture of AT&T is leading various local phone companies to seek major rate increases.
"While I recognize that C&P's application attempts to anticipate adverse economic effects of recent federal decisions regarding the divestiture . . . at this juncture such dire consequences are more speculative than real," Shackleton wrote.
The veteran council member noted that last year C&P ranked first among area companies in total profits with $371.4 million, $34.3 million of which was earned in the District.
Webster Chamberlain, spokesman for the company's District operations, said C&P "earned less than 9 percent when the commission had approved 12 percent" earnings last year. "We didn't fare too well in the bond ratings, we were downgraded, which would certainly reflect that at least the bond people think the company has need for some additional revenues."
Chamberlain declined to reveal the results of a recent $200,000 advertising campaign that accompanied the filing of C&P's rate proposals.
The radio and newspaper blitz also included a post-card mailing to each C&P customer asking if the customer wanted a choice of OMS service, which would bill each phone call by distance, duration and time of day.
That amounts to local long distance, according to a broad range of consumer groups that are gearing up to fight OMS and the increase. The critics contend C&P has not shown that frequency of use has a major bearing on the costs of providing service.
The critics also have complained OMS is part of a coordinated effort by local phone companies to impose OMS service by making "flat rate service" too expensive.
Chamberlain said the campaign results "will be part of the overall data" the company submits during the June proceedings. "The campaign was primarily designed to stimulate consumer interest in OMS. I would say it did that . . . to the extent the campaign was successful in doing what it was designed to do."
"So much for the machine," chuckled one Democratic State Committee member last week after a candidate supported by Mayor Marion Barry, Council Chairman David A. Clarke and John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2) lost a bid to fill a vacant at-large state committee seat.
Lawyer Edward Black, who was the intended beneficiary of support from Barry, Clarke and Wilson, was stunned Thursday night when his candidacy fell short and he lost, 26 to 22, to Democratic party and statehood activist Howard Croft.
"It was a chance for the mayor's supporters on the committee to show their independence and for his detractors to give him a black eye," said one bemused Barry supporter, enjoying the turnabout.
Some committee members said they had received as many as 12 or 16 phone calls in support of Black, a little-known candidate. They said most of the calls had come from Barry's political operatives. Black had the support of Anita Bonds, the keeper of Barry's political tabs, and Susan Meehan, the outgoing state committee member.
Croft, 41, apparently swung a few undecided votes with a spirited speech highlighting his activism in the labor, civil rights and peace movements.
"Howard was much more familiar," said a member of the losing forces. "Some of the people who said they were going to vote for Ed didn't show and some people who did, in point of fact, didn't vote for him."
Lawyer and lobbyist Woodrow Boggs, a close adviser to council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), had indicated earlier he would run and was said to have Barry's support. But Boggs never ran, saying he was too busy.
Croft and other at-large members of the committee will be up for a full year's term just next month, when chairman Ted Gay also is scheduled to run for reelection.
Barry reportedly is dissatisfied with Gay's strong streak of independence, but the mayor's on-again, off-again musings about putting someone up to challenge Gay were certainly not helped by Thursday's vote.