DEAR SUN SPOTS: Thanks for all the information that you provide. My FairPoint Communications basic charge has crept up 9 percent from March 2013 to February 2014. Aren’t these raises supposed to be approved by the Public Utilities Commission? I’ve seen nothing in the Sun Journal on this issue. — Gary, Auburn

ANSWER: Sun Spots first answered this question on March 7, but unfortunately she just found out that much of her answer was based on the faulty assumption that the Public Utilities Commission regulates phone charges.

She should have known that phone companies do not have to request permission from the PUC to raise their fees for “regular” customers. They can adjust their prices up (or down) to match market conditions (just like your cellphone service). This also applies to DSL service.

They do have to have permission from the PUC to raise fees for customers who receive their phone service as part of the “provider of last resort” mandate.

A Bangor Daily News story (http://tinyurl.com/qz8n2fw) about the recent request from FairPoint to raise those fees from $14.69 to $16.69 for residential service (and from $32.28 to $34.28 for business customers) on this topic grabbed Sun Spots’ attention. She failed to read the details and focused on the fact that her own phone service rates had increased the same amount rather than answering the question Gary had really asked.

The increases Sun Spots and Gary saw in their bills has nothing to do with FairPoint’s requests with the PUC.

Jeff Nevin, spokesman for FairPoint in Maine and New Hampshire who pointed out Sun Spots’ errors, said those requests are still pending and will probably be decided late summer or fall.

Jeff also offered a more complete — and undoubtedly more accurate — explanation of the rules governing POLR:

* “POLR is a minimum level of basic phone service that all Maine consumers are entitled to purchase at just and reasonable regulated rates.

* “POLR service is now the only retail telecommunications service that is subject to the Maine Public Utility Commission’s oversight. All other retail services have been deregulated.

* “POLR service must be available to any business or residence regardless of location or the cost of providing service.

* “Currently, FairPoint’s regulated residential and business POLR rates are $14.69 and $32.28 per month, respectively.

* “The law requires FairPoint and other Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILEC’s or better known as local telephone providers) to be the initial providers of POLR service throughout the state in each of their territories.

* “POLR covers only ‘basic’ phone service which is service to call within your local exchange, nothing else. No caller ID, no long distance, no DSL. If the person has any service like these, they are not a POLR customer.

“The key issue around POLR and our current case before the Maine PUC is the current POLR rates ($14.69 and $32.28) do not cover the cost of providing the service, and results in a revenue shortfall for the company. Other POLR providers in Maine receive Maine Universal Service Funding (MUSF) to offset their revenue shortfall. FairPoint does not currently get MUSF funding. MUSF gets its funding from fees collected from phone users (cellphone users, too) in Maine.

“As a result, we have asked the Maine PUC to approve a $2 per month increase in POLR rates and also provide MUSF money to offset our revenue shortfall. The case is now at the Maine PUC, and no decision has been made on our requests.”

Sun Spots should have remembered about phone deregulation (other older readers undoubtedly remember the breakup of Ma Bell). She is mortified and promises to try and do better.

This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name (we won’t use it if you ask us not to). Please include your phone number. Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can also be emailed to [email protected]


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