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New Jersey

Is Phone Deregulation Coming?

Opponents predict higher rates if Board of Public Utilities loses regulatory control

New Jersey BPU AT&T phone deregulation

David Mollen, of Union, has seen how New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities protects consumers and wants it to continue to oversee Verizon and two smaller companies that provide basic telephone service. — Photo by John Loomis

En español | David Mollen has seen firsthand the power of the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to protect consumers.

Mollen, 69, of Union, still bristles over his months-long battle with AT&T years ago to get a persistent wiring problem in his home phone corrected.

That ended when he called the BPU.

See also: Grandkids scam ring busted.

"Within 20 minutes I had a call from AT&T. … And then the problem was solved. It's a very clear signal to me of the value of the Board of Public Utilities."

Today Mollen is adding his voice to a growing chorus opposing legislation ​(S 2664/A 3766) that would release Verizon and two much smaller phone companies — Warwick Valley Telephone Communications and CenturyLink, which operate mostly in the state's sparsely populated northwest — from BPU regulation. Only basic, stand-alone residential and single-line business service is regulated by the BPU.

End of basic service rate

Passage of the bill would mean state regulators would no longer hold sway over the telecom giant, which now must file reports monthly on everything from service complaints to dial tone speed.

The legislation also would remove a requirement that the regulated companies offer a minimum basic rate for bare-bones service without long distance. That service costs consumers $26.89 per month, including about $10 in federal and state taxes and fees.

"This amounts to the wholesale elimination of consumer protections under current law," said Doug Johnston, head of AARP New Jersey government affairs.

Earlier this year, Johnston helped mobilize a campaign that generated some 18,000 phone calls to lawmakers' offices in opposition to the bill.

"This bill is radical," said Stefanie A. Brand, director of the Division of the Rate Counsel, which advocates for the state's utility consumers.

Next: AARP supports alternative bill.  >>

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