New Jersey 101.5 FM Radio

New Deregulation Bill Gets Thumbs Down By Consumer Groups

New Jersey 101.5 FM Radio — Thursday, March 10, 2011

Racquel Williams Reporting

A coalition of consumer advocates are rallying together saying to the legislature, "Don't Hang Up on New Jersey." The Market Competition and Consumer Choice Act rolls back several state regulations over telecommunications companies. It is designed to make the state's telecommunications industry more competitive, and allow for fair competition among all cable and TV companies.

But New Jersey Citizen Action says the bill is simply a lose-lose situation for taxpayers and consumers who will be left vulnerable and at the mercy of telephone and cable companies that will no longer be forced to play fair with customers.

Jackie Cornell-Bechelli, Political and Legislative Director for New Jersey Citizen Action, says the deregulation will eliminate any requirement for basic adequate service.

"Let's say your lines fall down. The cable company or phone company can take as long as they'd like to come out and fix them. Right now if your cable is on the fritz you can call them up and fight to get a credit on your bill. That would all go away." Cornell-Bechelli said.

The other big issue groups are concerned about is affordability. Companies would be able to charge whatever they would like for basic service. This would pose a big problem for seniors and low income residents. Public access television just may become a thing of the past as well, if cable companies are not forced to carry it.

Proponents of the bill claim that there is enough available competition in the market to keep prices down, and that the new proposals bring old regulations more up to date with the way business is done today. But Cornell-Bechelli takes issue with that.

"We were able to do a report back in 2008 when similar legislation was up and they couldn't find adequate competition throughout the state of New Jersey. I think there's a real argument to be made about what that competition would look like and how it would serve, especially when were talking about rural parts of the state where competition in the eyes of the legislation is one cable provider and one cell phone service."

That's not real competition and already there's spotty service at best in rural areas. It could get worse.

Senate bill S2664 would lift the laws in place that makes sure cable and phone companies don't discriminate or refuse service, requires companies to correct billing errors and protects consumers from being switched from carrier to carrier.

"They can come in and say 'we're not going to provide service in this town, or we're going to provide service in town X that will be more expensive than in town Y.' That's just not fair. It's not right."

The bill made it through a senate committee and is awaiting a full senate vote.

Listen to Racquel Williams's report:: To the left, click the "Q" (QuickTime) or   >  to play, or download the 664 KB mp3 file, of this news segment (approx.1 minute).
Top Top | NJCA Homepage | NJCA in the News