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Legislation Seeks Study on Phone Service Changes

PHOTO: There’s a Maryland House hearing today on a bill (HB 447) that would place a moratorium on selling a new type of phone service that replaces traditional landlines - until a study of the pros and cons is completed by the Public Service Commission. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith
PHOTO: There’s a Maryland House hearing today on a bill (HB 447) that would place a moratorium on selling a new type of phone service that replaces traditional landlines - until a study of the pros and cons is completed by the Public Service Commission. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith
February 6, 2014

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - The telecom industry has been moving away from traditional landlines for several years, offering consumers services that are similar to landlines but are really wireless-based. There are differences, and there's a Maryland House hearing today on a bill (HB 447), which would place a moratorium on selling the new services until a study of the pros and cons is completed by the Public Service Commission.

Tammy Bresnahan, advocacy director, AARP Maryland, explained some of the implications of the new type of service.

"They won't accept medical alert or alarm systems, home security - and certain Marylanders depend on those, especially older customers and consumers with health issues," Bresnahan explained.

Another big point is that traditional landlines continue working when the power goes out, and although the new type of service can have a battery back-up, it is dependent on electricity, she added. Supporters of the new service have said it is an improvement and accuse those opposed to it of resisting technology.

Wireless landlines made headlines in New York, when phone companies replaced traditional landline service with the wireless version after Hurricane Sandy. Customers have sent their stories to Annapolis, detailing dropped calls, inability to access 911, and lower sound quality that affects people with hearing disabilities.

Ian Hoffmann, community organizer, Common Cause, fielded many of those complaints.

"Given what we witnessed in Fire Island, N.Y., last summer, we're extremely concerned that Marylanders will suffer a similar fate with this poor, unregulated wireless product," Hoffmann said.

AARP Maryland, Common Cause, Keep Maryland Connected and Communications Workers of America are testifying in support of the bill. The hearing is at 1 p.m. in the House Economic Matters Committee, Room 230.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MD