Though almost every American adult owns a cellphone, reports of the death of the landline telephone have been somewhat exaggerated. About half of all U.S. households still have one. And traditionally, basic phone service has been available to anyone who wants it.

But if FairPoint Communications has its way, Mainers could lose that right. A company-drafted proposal now before lawmakers would exempt FairPoint from its responsibility as provider of last resort in parts of the state that are expensive to serve. Passing L.D. 1302 would deprive thousands of Mainers of quality, affordable telephone service, and passing it would be a mistake.

FairPoint would like to eliminate the universal landline access mandate. The company argues that having to serve customers in the most remote areas of Maine is costly and puts FairPoint at a competitive disadvantage against providers that don’t have that obligation.

But while FairPoint answers to its shareholders, legislators answer to their constituents — many of whom, especially rural residents, senior citizens and people with disabilities, have good reason for wanting to keep a landline phone.

Wireless service isn’t available or reliable everywhere. Medical alert devices depend on landline access; so do remotely monitored pacemakers. And compared to cellphones, landlines are less vulnerable to power failures and more efficient at locating 911 callers, which can save valuable time in an emergency.

FairPoint currently has to provide universal landline access at rates approved by state regulators. Under L.D. 1302, however, no company would be required to serve the 29,000 or so people in Maine who live in areas where there are no competitive alternatives. And those companies that do choose to enter that market would be able to set their own rates. So this bill would be a moneymaker for FairPoint.

For customers, it would obviously be a different story. While the amount they pay for service each month would likely go up, there’s no guarantee that the quality of the service they receive would increase along with it. FairPoint has a record of substandard performance, and loosening state oversight — as proposed under L.D. 1302 — wouldn’t help.

This bill would be a giant win for one company at the expense of some of Maine’s most vulnerable residents. Lawmakers who want to protect the interests of all citizens, regardless of where they live or how much money they make, should reject it.


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