- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - A bill that phases out the requirement that FairPoint Communications provide price-controlled landline telephone service is moving forward after winning the support of AARP.

The consumer group had previously raised concerns that the bill would allow the company to charge higher rates or abandon some customers who are dependent on land-line telephone service. But the group is supporting the bill after it was amended to provide stronger consumer protections.

“I really think this to be the best deregulation bill I have seen in terms of consumer protection,” said Amy Gallant, a lobbyist for AARP Maine.

Angelynne Beaudry, a FairPoint spokeswoman, said the bill acknowledges the highly-competitive and evolving telecommunications landscape while maintaining consumer protections in parts of the state where there is little competition.

The bill would remove a requirement that the company provide landline service in seven cities - Portland, Lewiston, Bangor, South Portland, Auburn, Biddeford and Sanford. The company could do the same for five additional communities every six months until a cap of 22 communities is reached.

In those areas where FairPoint would still be required to provide landline service, its rates would be capped a $20 per month. Rate increases would be capped at 5 percent annually.

Low-income customers would receive a discount of $3.50 in addition to federal subsidy for voice service for low-income customers.

The Legislature’s Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee on Monday voted 10-1 to endorse the bill.

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