Some weeks my list of things outstanding gets reduced as bills I am involved with move through the committee process and onto the floor.
It has been a year and half since I introduced a bill reducing the regulation of land line telephone companies. Technology and market forces have increased the options most New Hampshire households have to choose their telephone service.
Fifty years ago, telephone companies had monopolies in their service areas. Most of our state was served by New England Telephone which was part of AT&T. When AT&T was broken up, Verizon became the main carrier in New Hampshire. Verizon, in turn, sold the New Hampshire business a couple of years ago to Fair Point along with their operations in Vermont and Maine.
Today, instead of just one provider in an area, there are usually several companies trying to sell you telephone services which may be bundled with internet or TV service. The new entrants in the marketplace have created competition.
Verizon and US Cellular are two of the companies offering cellular service which is completely unregulated. COMCAST, AT&T and others offer telephone, cable and a new technology, Voice over the Internet Protocol (VOIP), that combines elements of telephone service with the internet.
Meanwhile, Fair Point, TDS, Granite State Telephone and a couple of others must provide service to everyone in their service area regardless of cost. And they must go to the Public Utilities Commission for approval of pricing and offers of bundled services as well as meet service quality standards.
While cellular service is not regulated, in a decision last summer, the Public Utilities Commission determined that it had regulatory oversight of VOIP, but otherwise the cable companies are also unregulated.
Today, rather than a monopoly situation, Fair Point and other incumbent telephone companies have less than half the telephone lines in the state. And if New Hampshire patterns Maine, there are more numbers in use in the state for cellular phones than there are for land lines.
So, after a year of working with the PUC, most of the companies, New Hampshire Legal Assistance and others, virtually every concern from every direction was dealt with as we leveled the playing field for Fair Point by reducing regulation.
Fair Point and the other companies, principally TDS and Granite State Telephone, must continue to provide service to anyone who wants it. They continue to be limited in any rate increase they can impose on those who have the most basic telephone service, often people of limited financial means.
And, as has been done in a couple of dozen other states, companies providing the new VOIP telephone option will not be regulated by the PUC which turns around the commissionís recent decision.
The vehicle to accomplish this is Senate Bill 48 which gained a bipartisan 5 to 0 vote in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for a recommendation of "ought to pass with amendment" last week and will go to the Senate floor for a vote soon.
We all know our laws need to keep pace and reflect the technological changes that affect marketplaces. We must not hold one competitor back by unnecessary regulation while other competitors are totally unregulated.
With the upcoming Senate vote, I will take SB 48 off my "to do" list where it has been since the fall of 2010. Of course, we will have to testify before the House committee and keep an eye on the bill if we want to see it pass the House and get to the Governorís desk for signature.
Some legislative work is easy. I introduced Senate Bill 369 at the request of Representative Charlene Lovett (Claremont) when it was too late under House rules for her to introduce it. It had a public hearing last Thursday in the Senate Finance Committee.
Back in 2009, it appears a mistake was made in the preparation of the budget. The language in the budget suspended a provision of law that allows a community which provides welfare benefits to a person from another town to bill the personís town of residence.
This concept of having one town recover costs of welfare benefits provided to a resident of another community goes back generations, and the process seems to have worked until the mistake was made that suspended the provision.
Judy Silva, an attorney and lobbyist for the Local Government Center, suggested that many years ago when travel between towns and cities was not as simple as it is today, a person might have a problem as they were passing through or visiting in a community they did not live in. That person could go to the town welfare official and receive some money or other benefit. The town providing the aid would bill the town of residence for the associated expenses.
I presented the bill to the committee and Ms. Silva provided the details and background. She indicated the restoration of the welfare provision was supported by the Local Government Center and the state association of municipal welfare officials. There was no opposition.
Senator Jack Barnes (Raymond) immediately called for a committee executive session and a vote on the bill. The vote to pass the bill was unanimous and the bill will be on the Senate floor later this month. The discussion and vote took about 15 minutes. Sometimes legislating is pretty easy.
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