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NO. 135. AN ACT RELATING TO TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANIES.

(H.599)

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

Sec. 1. 30 V.S.A. § 20(b)(10) is added to read:

(b) Proceedings for which additional personnel may be retained are:

* * *

(10) proceedings under the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Sec. 2. 30 V.S.A. § 218(c) is amended to read:

(c)(1) The public service board shall take action, including the setting of telephone rates, enabling the state of Vermont to participate in the Federal Communications Commission telephone lifeline program. The board shall set one or more residential basic exchange lifeline telephone service credits, for those persons eligible to participate in the Federal Communications Commission Lifeline program*[, equal to the full subscriber line charge, plus an amount equal to 50 percent of the basic service charge, provided that in no event shall the amount of the monthly credit exceed the monthly basic service charge, and provided further that in no event shall the amount of the monthly credit be less than the amount of the monthly credit in effect on May 31, 1992]*.

(2) *[The]* A person shall be eligible for the lifeline benefit who meets the department of social welfare *[shall provide a]* means test of eligibility *[for the subscriber]*, which shall include all persons participating in public assistance programs administered by the department of social welfare *[and]*. The department of social welfare shall verify this eligibility, in compliance with Federal Communications Commission requirements. The benefit under this subdivision shall be equal to the full subscriber line charge, plus an amount equal to the larger of:

(A) 50 percent of the monthly basic service charge, including 50 percent of all mileage charges and, if the board determines after notice and opportunity for hearing that their inclusion will make lifeline benefits more comparable in different areas, 50 percent of the usage cost arising from a fixed amount of monthly local usage, and

(B) $7.00 per month,

provided that in no event shall the amount of the monthly credit exceed the monthly basicservice charge, including any standard usage and mileage charges.

(3) *[Persons 65 years of age and older whose modified adjusted gross income as defined in section 5829(b)(1) of Title 32 for the preceding taxable year was less than 175 percent of the official poverty line established by the federal Department of Health and Human Services for a family of two published as of October 1 of the preceding taxable year]* A person shall also be eligible *[provided such subscriber]* for the lifeline benefit who submits to the commissioner of taxes an application containing any information and disclosure of information authorization necessary to process the lifeline credit. Such application shall be filed with the commissioner on or before June 15 of each year and shall be signed by the applicant under the pains and penalties of perjury. A person shall be eligible who is 65 years of age and older whose modified adjusted gross income as defined in section 5829(b)(1) of Title 32 for the preceding taxable year was less than 175 percent of the official poverty line established by the federal Department of Health and Human Services for a family of two published as of October 1 of the preceding taxable year. A person shall be eligible whose modified adjusted gross income as defined in section 5829(b)(1) of Title 32 for the preceding taxable year was less than 150 percent of the official poverty line established by the federal Department of Health and Human Services for a family of two published as of October 1 of the preceding taxable year. In the case of sickness, absence, disability, excusable neglect, or when, in the judgment of the secretary of human services good cause exists, the secretary may extend the deadline for filing claims under this section. The provisions of section 5901 of Title 32 shall apply to such application. The commissioner of taxes shall transmit the application to the secretary of human services and shall perform such income verification as is requested by the secretary. Upon enrollment in the program, and for each period of renewal, such participant shall receive the credit for 12 ensuing months. The benefit under this subdivision shall be equal to the full subscriber line charge, plus an amount equal to the larger of:

(A) 50 percent of the monthly basic service charge, including 50 percent of all mileage charges and, if the board determines after notice and opportunity for hearing that their inclusion will make lifeline benefits more comparable in different areas, 50 percent ofthe usage cost arising from a fixed amount of monthly local usage, and

(B) $7.00 per month,

provided that in no event shall the amount of the monthly credit exceed the monthly basic service charge, including any standard usage and mileage charges.

(4) The public service department shall report annually on or before February 15 to the speaker of the house and the president pro tem of the senate on the implementation and effectiveness of the telephone lifeline service, including information on the degree of participation in the program and the cost of the program's benefits and administration.

Sec. 3. 30 V.S.A. § 208a is amended to read:

§ 208a. SELECTION OF *[PRIMARY INTEREXCHANGE]* TELECOMMUNICATIONS

CARRIER

(a) No provider of telecommunications *[interexchange]* services shall submit a change order for primary interexchange carrier *[change order to a]* or for local exchange carrier to any telecommunications company regarding a Vermont customer unless and until the *[interexchange]* submitting carrier has obtained express authorization from the customer for the change. Upon request of the customer, offers to provide telecommunications *[interexchange]* services shall be sent to the customer in written form describing the terms and conditions of service. As used in this section, "express authorization" means an express, affirmative act by the customer clearly agreeing to the change in primary interexchange carrier or local exchange carrier, in the form of:

(1) a written authorization*[,]* ;

(2) a customer initiated call to the *[interexchange]* submitting carrier*[,]* ;

(3) an oral authorization verified by an independent third party and the verification has been recorded*[,]* ;

(4) electronic authorization*[,]* ; or

(5) some other form of recorded authorization.

(b) A petition alleging violation of this section may be brought to the public service board by the customer, by the department of public service, by the attorney general, or by the customer's former carrier. If the public service board determines after opportunity forhearing that *[an interexchange]* a telecommunications carrier has *[failed to comply]* submitted a change order and cannot demonstrate that it has complied with this section, *[or]* and with rules adopted by the board *[in submitting a primary interexchange carrier change order, in addition to other penalties under this title, the board shall direct the interexchange carrier to reimburse the local exchange carrier for any costs associated with the invalid primary interexchange carrier change order.]*, the board may:

(1) void any pending charges and require the submitting carrier to pay to the customer an amount equal to all charges previously paid by the customer to the submitting carrier and made possible by the change order, providing that the voiding and repayment shall apply only for a reasonable time after the customer discovered or should have discovered the change in carriers;

(2) require the submitting carrier to pay to the customer an amount of money to compensate for damages that arose because the change order altered the nature or quality of the customer's telecommunications services;

(3) require the submitting carrier to pay to the former carrier an amount equal to the revenues the former carrier would have received for providing equivalent services to the customer had the unauthorized switch not occurred;

(4) require the submitting carrier to pay to the customer's local exchange carrier, an amount to compensate for any costs arising from changes caused by the invalid change order;

(5) require the submitting carrier to pay, to the petitioner, the costs of prosecuting the complaint before the board, including reasonable attorney fees, witness fees, and incidental costs; and

(6) require the submitting carrier to pay a penalty as authorized by section 30 of this title.

Payments and penalties under this section shall be in addition to those otherwise provided by law.

(c) The public service board shall adopt such rules as are necessary to carry out the purposes of this section. Such rules shall be no less stringent than the federal rules relatingto *[primary interexchange carrier]* changes of carrier, and shall include such further provisions as are needed to implement the provisions of this section.

Sec. 4. 30 V.S.A. § 218a(a), (b) and (e) are amended and (f) is added to read:

(a) The department of public service shall develop the necessary standards for the establishment of a permanent, statewide telecommunications relay service and for an associated equipment program. The standards developed by the department shall be equal to or exceed those standards mandated by the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-336, 104 Stat. 327 (1990)) and expressly require that the designated provider of Vermont's telecommunications relay services comply, as expeditiously as possible, with any additional federal regulations which may be promulgated by the Federal Communications Commission in accordance with the provisions of this section.

(b) The department of public service shall issue a request for proposal seeking competitive bids from qualified vendors to provide telecommunications relay services and competitive bids from qualified vendors to provide telecommunications equipment in accordance with the provisions of this section, including the standards developed under subsection (a) of this section. The department shall file its recommendations and any proposed contract or contracts with the public service board for review and approval. The term of any contract shall not exceed four years.

(e) The department shall propose and the board shall establish by rule or order a telecommunications equipment grant program to assist deaf, deaf-blind, hearing impaired or speech impaired persons to communicate by telephone. Pursuant to this program a deaf, deaf-blind, hearing impaired or speech impaired person, whose modified adjusted gross income as defined in section 5829(b)(1) of Title 32 for the preceding taxable year was less than 175 percent of the official poverty line established by the federal Department of Health and Human Services for a family of two published as of October 1 of the preceding taxable year, may be eligible for a benefit of no more than $400.00 towards the purchase or upgrade of equipment used to access the relay service or otherwise communicate by telephone. The total benefits allocable under this section shall not exceed $75,000.00 per year. In adopting rules the board shall consider the following:

(1) prior benefits;

(2) degree of functional need;

(3) income;

(4) number of applicants; and

(5) disposition of equipment upon change of residence.

(f) The costs of the state's telecommunications relay service and any equipment benefit under subsection (e) of this section shall be included as part of the telephone lifeline program established under subsection 218(c) of this title. The board shall administer such costs through its dockets implementing the telephone lifeline program.

Sec. 5. Sec. 10 of Act No. 197 of the Acts of 1994 is amended to read:

Sec. 10. SUNSET PROVISION

Sec. 6. REPORT REQUIRED

The department of public service shall report to the general assembly no later than January 15, 1999 on the impact to the Universal Service Fund of providing telecommunications equipment to deaf, deaf-blind, hearing impaired and speech impaired persons and the impact of extending lifeline benefits to include those disabled persons, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, whose income is less than 175 percent of the current poverty level as established by the federal Department of Health and Human Services for a family of two.

Sec. 7. EFFECTIVE DATE

Sec. 5 of this act shall take effect upon passage. All other sections shall take effect on July 1, 1998.

Approved: April 27, 1998