vera-mcintyre_web.jpgAs a life-long Floridian, I have seen with my own eyes what a difference a properly structured law can make in our state.

Thirteen years ago, the Florida Legislature was one of the first in the nation to open Florida’s communications market to competition. They did so in a manner that protected consumers and allowed for growth and innovation in the communications industry.

Since that time, consumers have seen new and better communications products and services, more companies from which to choose, and services priced at competitive prices.

I want to thank the Legislature for creating the 1995 Telecommunications Act,  because it actually helped consumers in very tangible ways.

But, as Nobel Prize winning diplomat Ralph Bunche once said, “To make our way, we must have firm resolve, persistence, tenacity. We must gear ourselves to work hard all the way. We can never let up.”

Never have these words been so poignant.

With the economy spiraling out of control and unemployment reaching numbers that haven’t been seen in decades, we need laws that will spark more growth and investment in our state. I believe the passage of the 2009 Consumer Choice and Protection Act is key.

Why, you might ask?

Well, the proposed legislation promotes real competition and leads to companies investing more money in Florida. And, in the process, the proposed legislation gives consumers even more choices in service and service providers.

This translates into better quality at more affordable prices. It also lays the groundwork for Florida to improve its communications infrastructure and create new, high-quality jobs, enhance our educational opportunities, receive better healthcare service, and help improve the environment. At the same time, the legislation protects low-income  consumers by upholding all the requirements for the Lifeline and Link up programs, which help people with low incomes purchase phone service at a discount.

The legislation also has extra legal protections against anticompetitive behavior within the communications industry. Additionally, it levels the playing field so that the rules don’t  discriminate between phone companies.

What the new law does not do is provide regulators with the authority to dictate what consumers need. And let me be clear; I don’t need government telling me what I need.

I can choose my own communications company , my own service and my own service plan,  and, more importantly, I can choose to leave. If I don’t like the telephone service I am receiving, I’ll protest with my pocketbook. I’ll let a different company earn my business and my money.

I have choices.

Consumer choice is key; the choice to say “no,’’ to say, “I’m going elsewhere.’’

Rest assured that telephone companies respond much faster to consumer’s pocketbook protests than they ever would to outdated red tape. These unneeded regulations only add costs for consumers and slow down investment in our communities and our state.

We all know Florida’s economy and all Floridians have benefited from a tremendous increase in communications infrastructure investment . Looking at changes in Florida’s communications landscape over the past few years further speaks to the benefits of competition and a thriving market with increased consumer options.

It is my hope that the Florida Legislature will demonstrate the same vision and forward thinking it demonstrated in 1995 and take the next step in making Florida’s communications market stronger for the benefit of Florida’s consumers and its economy.

I believe that by doing so, you will secure a better digital future for me, my daughters and generations yet to come. I urge Governor Crist to sign the  2009 Consumer Choice and Protection Act (SB 2626).

Vera McIntyre, Ph.D., is founder and chairwoman of Communications Consumers United, a non-profit consumer advocacy organization that seeks to ensure universal access to advanced communications products and services across the United States.