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ACT NO. 135

(H. 599)

Telecommunications

This act makes several amendments to the laws regulating telecommunications companies, including the following.

The Public Service Board and the Public Service Department are authorized to retain additional personnel, such as clerical, legal and financial staff, for proceedings under the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, and to charge telecommunications companies for the costs of such personnel.

The benefits of the lifeline program are extended to persons whose adjusted gross income is less than 150 percent of the poverty level for a family of two and for those persons over the age of 65 whose adjusted gross income is less than 175 percent of the poverty level for a family of two. The benefit levels have been modified to be the larger of $7.00 or 50 percent of the basic monthly service charge.

State law protection against "slamming", the unauthorized switching of telecommuni-cations companies, is extended to include unauthorized switching of local exchange carriers. Persons who may file a slamming petition before the Public Service Board include the customer, the Department of Public Service, the Attorney General or the customer's former carrier. The Board may award damages, costs, and attorneys fees, together with other remedies and penalties.

An equipment grant program is established to assist in the purchase of telecommunications equipment for deaf, deaf-blind, hearing impaired or speech impaired persons.

The sunset of the universal service charge (used to fund universal telecommunications services such as the lifeline program and the E-911 program) is repealed.

The Department of Public Service is required to report on the impact of the equipment grant program on the universal service fund.

Effective Date: Sec. 5 (repeal of sunset of universal service charge) is effective on April 27, 1998. The remainder of the act is effective on July 1, 1998.