State regulators issued a blanket order Monday afternoon directing all electric transmission and distribution utilities, natural gas utilities, water utilities and telephone Providers of Last Resort to not engage in any disconnection activity until further notice.

The order includes the issuance of disconnection notices and actual service disconnections for all classes of customers during the coronavirus crisis.

“No one will lose utility service or be threatened with disconnection during this civil emergency,” Public Utilities Commission Chairman Philip L. Bartlett said. “This applies equally to residential and business customers and is effective immediately.”

The PUC order came after some utilities already had announced plans to suspend all customer disconnections for nonpayment while the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread.

Central Maine Power Co. and the Maine public advocate were submitting a joint request Monday to the PUC to suspend winter disconnections for home customers through May 15, in recognition of the potential economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Summit Natural Gas of Maine also said it was stopping disconnections of any customers who are having a hard time paying their bills until April 30, and then would evaluate whether to further extend the suspension.

State law prohibits electric and gas utility companies from disconnecting certain customers between Nov. 15 and April 15, due to cold weather.

Across the country, utilities are halting service disconnections and implementing flexible payment plans into the spring, to assist customers in dealing with the spread of coronavirus and its economic impacts, according to Utility Dive, an online publication that covers the industry.

Utilities nationwide are “working with their communities and their regulators to identify ways to assist customers during this health emergency,” Edison Electric Institute spokesman Brian Reil told Utility Dive.

Connecticut, New Jersey and Ohio are among the other states that have barred service disconnections statewide.

In Maine, CMP also is implementing necessary business precautions and contingency plans to support employees’ first-responder roles.

“In this unique time of uncertainty over the impacts of  COVID-19, we want to reassure customers that we would like to work with them if they are challenged to pay their bills, and would like to extend the period in which disconnections are prohibited until Maine has a better understanding of how people are dealing with the consequences of the pandemic,” said David Flanagan, CMPs executive board chairman.

CMP encouraged customers with bill-paying challenges to call the company to discuss possible sources of assistance and individual payment arrangements. 

Summit Natural Gas said the company didn’t want customers at this time to be worried about whether they can afford to keep their heat on, have gas to cook their food or hot water to take a shower.

Summit added that customers struggling to pay bills should visit summitnaturalgasmaine.com/paymentassistance for a list of agencies that can provide financial assistance.

In a related development, one of Maine’s large cable TV and internet providers said it would take several steps for the next 60 days, starting Monday, to increase access to broadband.

Charter Communications, which does business as Spectrum, said it will offer free broadband and Wi-Fi access to households with K-12 and/or college students who do not already have a Spectrum broadband subscription, at any service level up to 100 Mbps. To enroll call 844-488-8395. Installation fees will be waived for new student households.

For eligible low-income households without school-aged children, Charter said it continues to offer Spectrum Internet Assist, a low-cost broadband program delivering speeds of 30 Mbps.

Charter also said it would open its Wi-Fi hotspots across our footprint for public use.

“As the country works collaboratively to contain this pandemic,” the company said, “broadband internet access will be increasingly essential to ensuring that people across the country are able to learn and work remotely, that businesses can continue to serve customers, and that Americans stay connected and engaged with family and friends.”

In a statement issued Friday, the Federal Communications Commission said it had garnered pledges from all major U.S. internet service providers, including Charter, not to disconnect any residential or small business customer’s internet service for nonpayment for the next 60 days, and that they would waive all late fees during that period.


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