The future of telephone service in the state of Maine is starting to look less like something fit for C-SPAN and more like something fit for Stephen King. The days of Ma Bell are long dead, but Maine legislators are looking to tackle their phone laws on a degree not seen in almost a century, and with that comes a lot of new changes for both consumers and businesses alike.
Maine recently signed a complete revamping of its telecommunications laws into the books, the first such revamping since 1913, according to Mike Reed of FairPoint Communications, Maine's largest telephone carrier. And while it's similar to the telephone deregulation that took place in many states, it also added a few new touches all its own, including oversight for the “provider of last resort“ service.
Under Maine's new laws, reportedly, any Maine address that wants a landline telephone can have one, at rates established and guaranteed by Maine's Public Utilities Commission. Prices and availability of other services, meanwhile, are subject to market forces. Maine telephone providers can also roll out their own service changes without permission from regulators, and some substantial automatic penalties levied against providers are also removed, but can be brought back with a hearing process. This splits the difference between consumer interest and industry forces, giving both at least some advantages without tipping the balance too far in any one direction.
The regulation changes are part of a series of initiatives that have been going on for years. There were a variety of issues involved with phone service in Maine; companies were required to publish a telephone directory, snowstorm power outages regularly took phone service out with them as cable and VoIP services require power to work, unlike land lines powered by central offices. And a changing market hasn't helped the industry much either, with some estimates suggesting as much as 16 percent of all users in New Hampshire use cell phones to completely replace a land line.
It's often better to allow the market to operate on its own initiatives, and allow consumers to vote with their wallets in favor of better service. Though a little regulation often improves things for consumers, the more the market can do, generally, the better for all concerned. While it remains to be seen just what effects the changes in the Maine laws will have for consumers, it will be an excellent glimpse at just what effect deregulation has on a more recent market.
Edited by Jennifer Russell