Lawmakers: simplify rules for small phone companies

A summer-long study commission last week advised letting landline phone companies with 25,000 or fewer customers negotiate alternative regulations with the state Public Utilities Commission.

The goal is to level their playing field with fast-moving and unregulated wireless, satellite and broadband competitors.

Committee member Sen. Bob Letourneau, R-Derry, said the goal is to preserve the little guys like Granite State Telephone, which has customers in Weare, Chester and Sandown.

“They’re getting forced out or gobbled up by the big telecoms,” Letourneau said. “But we don’t want to interfere with the regulations for the overall industry. It’s evolving so fast, and we don’t want to hinder cost reduction and innovation. We also know phone rates are 15 percent lower in areas where you have a landline rival to the new technologies. Why? It’s simple. Competition.”

The study committee’s chairman, Rep. James Garrity, R-Atkinson, said the spectrum of new telecom products is widening by the month. The technology already allows, he said, for a “cloud” or “mesh” of small transmission antennas to fill those reception dead spots in every town.

“Everybody wants the triple play of service, or maybe the quadruple play: voice, data, video, and now wireless communication,” Garrity said.

Commission member Peter Burling, the Democratic senator from Cornish, said he’s willing to watch the relaxed rules for a trial period before asking for tighter regulations, if they prove needed.

“We can always do that,” he said. “For now we’re hoping that more and more technology spurs competition and acts as a check and balance.”

Sen. Richard Green, R-Rochester, had concerns about deregulating firms that hold monopolies in their catchment areas.

“When the railroads ran this country, they were not regulated,” he said.

Meanwhile, Verizon spokesman Erle Pierce said his firm has been working for more than a year with the PUC to relax restrictions that govern the telecommunications giant as well.

“We have to make our case every time we raise rates, lower them, or introduce a new service,” Pierce said. “So we can’t react to our competition quickly. This would give us a little more freedom to price our product.” — CHRIS DORNIN/GOLDEN DOME NEWS SERVICE

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