New N.J. deregulation plan would keep rate controls on basic service

Efforts to deregulate phone, television and Internet services in New Jersey have been stuck for a while. Now there’s an alternative proposal that would lift most rate caps.

Unlike a measure that was tabled in the state Senate earlier this year, the new version would maintain state oversight of telephone landlines and rates for basic service.

“So that citizens who have low and moderate means, seniors who have tight budgets and need basic services, they will get a basic rate,” said Sen. Bob Smith, the bill’s sponsor. “In other states where they’ve done this deregulation, the rates have gone through the roof.”

The AARP supports the alternative bill and its provision to maintain state oversight of landline telephones that many senior citizens depend on.

“Picture yourself in your 70s or 80s,” said Jim Dieterle, AARP state director. “You’re in your house. The lights are out but you’ve got a landline phone and it works and it’s your lifeline.”

The legislation also would require compensation for service failures, said Jackie Cornell-Bechelli with the group Citizen Action.

“Between the earthquake, the snow, the hurricanes, the floods–people were in situations where they didn’t have service for days, weeks. They shouldn’t have to pay for that, she said. “If your cable is out, you deserve to get a credit on your bill, and this bill protects that for consumers.”

Verizon New Jersey opposes the measure. A representative said it would put the company at a competitive disadvantage.

It’s not clear whether the lame-duck session of the Legislature will act on the bill or reconsider the previous version that would eliminate many of the state regulations on the telecommunications industry.

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