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SBC continues to push for deregulation

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ SBC Oklahoma's proposal to deregulate local telephone service likely will result in price increases, particularly in rural Oklahoma, according to testimony before the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

Speaking Friday on the second day of hearings on SBC's proposal to eliminate commission oversight of SBC's local phone service, an economist and consultant for AARP of Oklahoma said local phone service competition does not exist in the state.

``At best, there's a duopoly,'' David Brevitz said. ``SBC and Cox have the lion's share of the market. There are numerous companies, but the ability to effect price is nonexistent.''

The commission now will decide whether to approve SBC's plan. The telecommunications giant wants most of its Oklahoma telephone services declared ``competitive,'' which would free those services from commission oversight.

San Antonio-based SBC Communications Inc. controls 1.35 million local-access lines in Oklahoma, or about 74.4 percent of the retail voice line market. Small incumbents serve about 238,000 local-access lines, or about 13.1 percent of the market. Competitive Local Exchange Carriers provide service to nearly 227,000 access lines, or about 12.5 percent of the total, according to a recent study by the commission's Public Utilities Division.

Witnesses with SBC contend that because of the growing prevalence of wireless service, in addition to continuing competitive pressure from Cox and other smaller landline providers, enough competition exists to remove regulations.

SBC Oklahoma President Don Cain said the company seeks a level playing field with other competitors that do not fall under the same rules to which SBC must adhere.

``Right now there is only one company that is hampered by the rules, and the time has come to change that,'' he said. ``We just want the opportunity to compete. We want the same opportunity to succeed or fail on our own merits, not with our arms being artificially tied behind our back.''

Cox spokeswoman Kym Koch said the company isn't opposed to eventually scaling back regulation on SBC, but that the state's telephone industry is not at a level where competitive pressures alone could drive down prices.

``SBC is everywhere in the state, so they can decrease rates in urban areas and raise rates in rural areas to make up for the lost profit and run competitors out of business with predatory pricing,'' Koch said. ``And once they run competitors out of the market, the rates will go back up.''
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