The California Public Utilities Commission ordered hearings Monday to determine whether telephone rates should be cut next year when responsibility for maintaining phone wires inside homes is transferred to customers from the phone companies.
The commission also ordered Pacific Bell to show that it is not "unduly benefitting at ratepayers' expense" from lower inflation, interest rates and bond costs. General Telephone will be ordered to do the same next month, a commission spokeswoman said.
In addition, the commission elected Stanley W. Hulett as its president, succeeding Donald Vial. Vial, who was appointed by former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., will remain as a commissioner and becomes the last Brown appointee on the five-member commission when Victor Calvo's term expires Dec. 31. Besides Hulett, G. Mitchell Wilk and Frederick Duda were appointed by Gov. George Deukmejian.
A San Francisco-based consumer group called Toward Utility Rate Normalization had asked the commission to block the Jan. 1, 1987, implementation of a program, ordered by the Federal Communications Commission, to deregulate maintenance of telephone wiring and jacks inside customers' homes.
Repair and maintenance of those lines have been the responsibilities of local telephone companies, which included the cost of such service in customers' monthly bills. But the FCC ruled last January that wiring inside homes should be the property of customers.
Under the ruling, after Jan. 1 customers can repair the wires themselves or hire someone, including local telephone companies, to do it. Pacific Bell customers can pay 50 cents a month if they want the company to continue to maintain the lines. General Telephone's maintenance plan costs 95 cents a month.
The commission--which recently decided to challenge the FCC order--refused to stop implementation of the inside-wiring plan but ordered hearings into the possibility of reducing rates because telephone companies no longer must bear the cost of repairing the lines. Telephone companies were also ordered to keep track of revenues collected under their inside wiring maintenance plans "subject to refund." No date for the hearings has been set.
"What this decision says is everything is subject to refund," a commission spokeswoman said.
The commission also ordered the companies to find alternatives to their plan to spend more than $1 billion on devices that would pinpoint whether trouble on a telephone line falls inside or outside a building.