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Assembly Panel Oks Benson & Chivukula Bill to Protect Consumers by Blocking Phone Companies from Abandoning Landline Phone Service

Wireless transition raises concerns about quality of service for residents and Public Safety Agencies

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Dan Benson and Upendra Chivukula to prevent telephone companies from discontinuing traditional phone lines with wireless alternatives for a year until the Board of Public Utilities can investigate its impacts on consumers and public safety was advanced by an Assembly panel on Monday.

The sponsors note that providing only wireless services can put residents at risk if they depend on landline phones as their only source of communication to the outside world or need it for medical reasons.

“There are still too many unanswered questions and too many scary scenarios to force this change on residents without looking at the potential impact,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “What happens in the case of a service disruption? What is a resident with no other means of communication to do then?”

“A service outage shows just how vulnerable we are to technology. An emergency can arise at any moment. A company’s bottom-line should not outweigh the safety of residents and our first responders,” said Chivukula (D-Somerset/Middlesex). “Rather than plow ahead with these wireless alternatives, let’s first hear from residents and public safety and figure out what the potential repercussions are. It’s best to find that out now, rather then later when it might be too late to turn back.”

The bill (A-2459) establishes a one-year moratorium on the replacement of copper-based, landline telephone service by local exchange telecommunications companies. The bill also requires the Board of Public Utilities to hold at least three public hearings on the replacement of landline telephone service. There would be one hearing each in the northern, southern and central parts of the state.

Following the public hearings and after notice and opportunity for public comment, on or before Dec. 1, 2014, the board must prepare and submit a report to the governor and the Legislature with information regarding the potential impact on customers, rates, public safety and reliability if copper-based, landline telephone service is replaced.

The bill does make exceptions under specific circumstances including after residents receive appropriate notice and consent in writing to such replacement and during a declared state of emergency. Also under the bill, a company may not replace the copper-based, landline service for a public safety agency, unless they receive appropriate notice and information, and consent in writing to such replacement on forms prepared by the Board.

The measure was approved by the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee.