UPDATE: Walker County phone customers fighting rate increase - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Walker County phone customers fighting rate increase

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CHICKAMAUGA, Ga. (WRCB-TV) - It was a full house at the Chickamauga Civic Center, Monday night. Chickamauga Telephone customers were polite but firmly against a land line rate increase. "There's nothing going down," said one resident. "Everything's going up except our salary."

"We're here today because another company has complained about Chickamauga Telephone rates; that they are too low" said Melody Day, City SUperintendent of Schools. "And maybe it's just that their rates are just too high." The other company is AT&T and along with the Cable Television Association of Georgia, the telecom giant has asked the state to look at local telephone company to rates. They want an increase: more than 40-percent for residential, as much as double for businesses.

"With the coming increases to business owners, especially concerning health care, your timing could not be worse," Day added.

The arguments against the increase were numerous. They included safety. "If I'm broken into in my home and I want to call 911, I can dial 911, throw the phone down, and can be assured that Walker County dispatch will send someone to my home to my home to help me," explained one female resident. "If I do that with my cell phone service, it goes to Hamilton County, Tennessee, and I may or may not get help in a time of need.

Income and age of community members were brought up, as well. "I live on a fixed income," said area resident Leon Ellis, "and I don't see how that, at this time, I can pay an increase of 42% on the telephone bill."

State Representative Jay Neal reminded the Commission there are still business on the rebound. "To put more pressure in Chickamauga Telephone Company to increase their rates even more, I believe, will have a very negative impact on business development opportunities in this area," he said, "an area that not only is suffering form the economic downturn from the last six years, but still here in the Northwest Georgia area, still feeling the economic effects of the tornados of April 27th, 2011."

The Georgia Public Service Commission regulates 20 phone companies. These companies draw from the Universal Access Fund, a fee collected form every land line customer across the state. At issue is whether these small companies are charging their customers enough or are they relying too much on the state taxpayer subsidy. Commissioners will meet with the small phone companies in question Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, will go together through their finances, and try to determine if they are charging a "fair and just amount."

"It's important for the Public Service Commission to be able to hear form our constituents around the state," said PSC Chairman Tim Echols. "And we're glad the people packed out the auditorium tonight."

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CHICKAMAUGA, GA. (WRCB) -- It is not a very busy day at the Southern Style Café and Gift Shop in Chickamauga, but it is one of the few downtown shops open on a Monday.

Other area businesses are closed to cut costs and another financial hit could be coming their way.

AT&T phone company along with the Cable Television Association of Georgia is asking the State of Georgia Service Commission to force the local telephone company to increase its customer rates.

Phyllis Johnson of Southern Style says, "I think they should leave us alone. We are doing fine with the phone company we have and the rates are fine."

Under the proposal residential customers who pay $13.30 per month would pay $18.83 per month.

The biggest hit comes to business customers.

Right now business customers pay $20.40 per month and under the proposal would pay $40.80 per month. 

Chickamauga Telephone Corporation spokesperson Ted Austin says any increase could equal fewer customers.

He isn't ready to pull the plug yet.

"No we don't think it is fair because our rates are fair now," says Austin. "Should the Public Service Commission goes along with AT&T and The C-TAG then I fear we will lose customers."

Chickamauga city manager John Culpepper says he isn't sure what prompted the rate increase, but the city is looking at paying $200 more per month.

He says that cost will ultimately fall on the taxpayer.

Culpepper's concern is for businesses struggling to stay open.

"They are trying to keep the doors open and competing with corporate America," he says. "When you double their rates, it is another financial impact."

A public hearing will be held Monday, August 13, at the Walker County Civic Center at 4:00 p.m. with the Public Service Commission to discuss the proposal.

Stay with WRCBtv.com for updates to this story as they become available.

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