The Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology Thursday moved to reconsider a bill involving payment to FairPoint Communications and the Maine Universal Service Fee, voting unanimously not to report the bill out to the full Legislature, as it had previously done.
Instead, the committee voted to carry the bill over for consideration by the committee during the next legislative session. A majority of the committee had previously recommended passage of the bill, which would have resulted in an immediate authorization of up to $6 million to be paid to FairPoint, to be collected from fees on all phone customers.
Thursday’s development followed media reports that FairPoint is under investigation by the Maine Public Utilities Commission for misuse of nearly identical funds imposed at the federal level.
FairPoint has denied that it’s using the money improperly.
According to the co-chair of the energy committee, Rep. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, FairPoint has been lobbying the Legislature to pass the legislation that would increase the fee charged to every digital, wireless and landline phone bill in the state of Maine, known as the Maine Universal Service Fee. The bill would almost double the current fee to a total of $13 million, and contain no statutory cap on how high the fee could go.
The increase would all go to FairPoint. A report by the PUC earlier this year warned that without a cap the proposed fee, collected annually, could soar to $130 million or more.
“Carrying the bill over to the next session will give the committee the time it needs to better understand the bill and the larger issues surrounding it,” Hobbins said.