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AARP Maine raises concerns with latest proposal to deregulate landline phone service

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AUGUSTA AARP members and staff were present at a work session of the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology (EUT) to continue efforts to protect basic landline telephone service for all Mainers.

Two bills, LD 466 and LD 1302, both titled An Act to Increase Competition and Ensure a Robust Information and Telecommunications Market, were carried over by the EUT Committee last session. The bills have been combined by a stakeholder committee, along with LD 879, and will continue as LD 466. The new bill, brought to the Committee today for preliminary discussion, identifies 25 municipalities in which basic landline telephone service would be immediately deregulated and establishes a process to further deregulate basic landline telephone service in additional Maine towns in the years to come.

The 25 towns identified in the new bill include Portland, Lewiston, Bangor, South Portland, Auburn, Biddeford, Sanford, Brunswick, Scarborough, Saco, Augusta, Westbrook, Kennebunk, Standish, Kittery, Brewer, Cape Elizabeth, Old Orchard Beach, Yarmouth, Bath, Freeport and Belfast.

'We are concerned that this bill is considered a compromise,' said Rich Livingston, AARP Maine volunteer state president. "Mainers in these communities need to know that their access will disappear and service quality along with it."

The legislative process determines that bills carried from one session to the next are reintroduced in a work session, not a public hearing. Members of the committee raised concern that this new bill with newly introduced language should have a public hearing.

'Although the committee asked thoughtful questions at today's work session, a complex and critical issue such as preserving or eliminating the right to reliable, affordable basic landline service that protects the health and safety of thousands of vulnerable Mainers, especially seniors, deserves a public hearing,' said Livingston. 'We urge legislative leadership and the chairs of the EUT Committee to schedule a public hearing for the new bill allowing the people of Maine to have a say in the process.'

The service in jeopardy is known as the Provider of Last Resort or POLR which is specific to basic landline telephone service. According to an April 2015 Critical Insights survey of Maine voters 18 and older, 67 percent of Mainers are opposed to the proposed change in service.

The work session comes just two weeks after AARP Maine staff and volunteers delivered 1,500 'Save Our Landlines' petitions to members of the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology (EUT) along with Republican and Democratic leadership. Collected from residents from across the state, the petition demands the right for Mainers to have affordable, reliable basic landline telephone service, no matter where they live, and until an equally affordable and reliable alternative service is built. Hundreds of additional petitions have poured into the AARP Maine office.

'In addition to hearing from thousands of Mainers worried about losing their landline phone, the EUT Committee should provide an opportunity for public comment on the new bill.' said Livingston.

Last modified on Thursday, 10 March 2016 11:43

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