Your AARP ; New Jersey News
Opponents predict higher rates
David Mollen has seen firsthand the power of the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to protect consumers.
Mollen, 69, of Union, still bristles over his
months-long battle with AT&T years ago to
get a persistent wiring problem in his home
That ended when he called the BPU.
“Within 20 minutes I had a call from
End of basic service rate
AT&T … And then the problem was solved.
It’s a very clear signal to me of the value of
the Board of Public Utilities.”
Today Mollen is adding his voice to a
growing chorus opposing legislation
(S 2664/A 3766) that would release Verizon
and two much smaller phone companies—
Warwick Valley Telephone Co. and Centu-
ryLink, which operate mostly in the state’s
sparsely populated northwest—from BPU
regulation. Only basic, stand-alone resi-
dential and single-line business service is
regulated by the BPU.
The legislation also would remove a requirement that the regulated companies offer a
minimum basic rate for bare-bones service
without long distance. That service costs
consumers $26.89 per month, including
about $10 in federal and state taxes and fees.
“This amounts to the wholesale elimination of consumer protections under current
law,” said Doug Johnston, head of AARP
New Jersey government affairs.
Earlier this year, Johnston helped mobilize a campaign that generated some 18,000
phone calls to lawmakers’ offices in opposition to the bill.
“This bill is radical,” said Stefanie A.
Brand, director of the Division of Rate
Counsel, which advocates for the state’s
Because it’s considered “proprietary
information,” the BPU won’t say how many
customers would be affected. Verizon
refuses to disclose how many of its roughly
2 million subscribers have the bare-bones
Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski said
the legislation is needed to offset a “com-
petitive disadvantage” with cable companies like Comcast and Cablevision that
also offer phone service but aren’t similarly regulated.
Coalitions have formed
Verizon is joined in its push for deregulation
by Comcast and Cablevision plus the New
Jersey Cable Telecommunications Association, (an industry trade group), the New Jersey Business & Industry Association and the
state Chamber of Commerce. Verizon New
Jersey President Dennis Bone is a past chairman of the chamber’s executive committee.
The bill’s opponents have formed a coali-
tion that includes AARP New Jersey, the
The legislation overwhelmingly passed
the General Assembly in February but
stalled in the Senate. It is expected to resur-
face during the current lame duck session.
State Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex
County, called the legislation “a stinker of a
bill” in an interview with the AARP Bulle-
tin. His primary concerns are the loss of the
minimum phone rate and removing BPU
oversight. “There’s no redress, no remedy
for the consumer.”
But Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, R-Union
County, a coauthor of the bill, said Verizon
and the other companies would be kept
in check by lawmakers. “This legislature
would not allow seniors to be penalized.”
AARP and other coalition members are
supporting an alternative bill sponsored by
Smith (S 3062) that would retain the BPU’s
authority over the companies, streamline
some regulations and expand others John-
ston said AARP New Jersey is mobilizing
volunteers for a telephone campaign to
support S 3062. To contact your legislator,
—By Jim Hooker
For other state news, go to
The estimated dollar value of a volunteer hour for
each state, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin
Islands for 2009.
Value of Volunteers
* VALUE IS BASED
ON THE AVERAGE
WAGE OF NON-MANAGEMEN T,
SUCH AS DOCTORS
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