The Senate approved an increase of the current customer fee on telephone bills from 3 cents to 10 cents Tuesday. The increase will benefit the deaf. The money is needed, advocates said, because the current telephone system for the hearing and speech impaired is overloaded.
Disabled Utahns who can't talk or hear call a special exchange with a typewriter-like machine, typing in their messages. Three operators answer the calls and pass the phone conservation along to hearing telephone customers.What started as 50 calls a day has mushroomed to more than 400, and the operators can't keep up. Currently, disable customers must wait up 15 minutes to get through to the operators and can only talk for 15 minutes at a time.
Sponsor Sen. Paul Fordham, D-Salt Lake, wanted the Public Service Commission to have total control of the special fee and set it at whatever level will bring in enough money to pay for more operators. But some senators balked at that idea.
"Since almost every Utahn has a telephone, any fee increase is really a tax increase," said Sen. K.S. Cornaby, R-Salt Lake. Senators decided that a 10-cent limit is fair and will provide the special program enough money to eliminate the 15 minute waiting period.