Sen. Bob Smith, (D-17), of Piscataway said Monday morning he will introduce amendments at today’s Senate session to restructure the telecom deregulation bill.
Among other things, Smith said he wants to bring the Board of Public Utilities back into the equation to handle complaints, and restore assurances of service to rural areas, connections for municipal and school board broadcasts, and guarantees of reimbursements for outages that last a certain period of time.
The bill, S2664, has been one of the most hotly contested pieces of legislation in months. Business groups, including Verizon, have lobbied the Legislature strongly to pass the bill as a pro-jobs bill.
But consumer groups claim it will strip customer protections and reduce service quality.
“The amendments are designed to solve major deficiencies in the bill,” Smith said. “It brings back BPU,’’ and brings back protections for senior and lower-income customers, he said.
There were about 15,000 complaints last year handled by regulatory agencies regarding cable and other communications providers, according to Smith, and this bill would take BPU out of the equation unless changed.
He said this morning he had received support from some other senators for the amendments and a feeling that this bill had been moved too quickly through the process.
As it now stands, among other things, the Market Competition and Consumer Choice Act would reduce the obligation of a telecom company to provide free connections to school or municipal buildings, and opponents claim it has no protections against a company in the future selling land line assets.
Below are the amendments that Smith said he will attempt to introduce:
Regarding public utilities providing telephone services, the amendments would:
a) subject public utilities providing telephone services to a number of consumer protections that exist under current law, including prohibitions on refusal of service, preferential rates and services and Board authority over late fees;
b) continue to require public utilities providing telephone services to provide safe, adequate and proper service;
c) preserve the Board’s oversight of service quality and outages;
d) require public utilities providing telephone services to continue filing tariffs with the Board;
e) continue the Board’s regulation of basic rates and those terms of service;
f) continue the obligation of public utilities providing telephone services to pay an assessment to the board to fund the Board to fund the Board’s regulation of the industry;
g) require Board approval for a number of corporate transactions related to public utilities providing telephone services; and
h) require the Board, not the Secretary of State, to certify that there are at least two providers offering voice services to retail residential customers in an exchange.
Regarding cable television companies, the amendments would:
a) continue to prohibit discriminatory practices and rates;
b) continue to require cable companies to pay an assessment to the Board to fund the Board’s regulation of the industry
c) require Board approval for a number of corporate transactions related to cable television companies;
d) require that cable television companies continue to provide safe, adequate and proper service;
e) preserve the Board’s oversight on service quality and service outages;
f) continue the Board’s regulation of basic tier rates to Board authority over CATV basic service tier charges where no final declaration of “effective competition” has been issued by the Federal Communications Commission;
g) require cable companies to certify to the Board, not the Secretary of State, that there are at least two multichannel video programming distributors offering video programming in that franchise area, or portions thereof; and
h) continue to require companies with a system-wide franchise to provide a return feed to be used for live viewing of public, educational, or governmental channels.