By Andy Metzger

State House News Service

BOSTON -- Hoping to peel off a layer of state regulation they say is unnecessary, chamber of commerce executives and phone company representatives this week urged the state to leave telecommunications oversight to federal regulators, while one lawmaker sought new regulations on the cellphone industry.

"The national regulatory framework has allowed us to compete, with service and infrastructure," said Stacey Briggs, a lobbyist for T-Mobile, which recently merged with cell-service provider MetroPCS.

Scores of business executives and representatives on Tuesday told the Telecommunication, Utilities and Energy Committee that legislation filed by Rep. Stephen DiNatale, a Fitchburg Democrat, would allow for "innovation" and described ongoing business ventures.

The bill would bar the Department of Telecommunications and Cable from having regulatory oversight in areas where there is more than one landline carrier, and would pre-emptively bar the department from regulating the wireless industry.

"I think that division, the Department of Telecom and Cable, I think we need to review its role, as a Legislature, its role in the existing innovation economy," DiNatale told the News Service after the hearing.

At the same hearing, Sen. Karen Spilka, an Ashland Democrat, argued for a "cellphone user's bill of rights," legislation that would empower the DTC to write regulations requiring carriers to publicize certain information, monitor the quality of cell service, and limit contracts to 12 months.


"Many people don't have landline phones anymore, however, as wireless subscribership increases, so do complaints about the contracts and services," Spilka told the committee. She said, "While customer protection regulations are widespread for traditional telephone uses and services, the federal government has not yet provided protections for cell phone users. So I believe we should not wait for the federal government to step in."

Verizon spokesman Phil Santoro said though it no longer provides the majority of landline service, the company is still sacked with the same regulations that applied to the former telephone companies that operated as regulated monopolies, much like utilities today.

Santoro said Verizon is required to fix a phone within 24 hours, even if a customer requests for the repair to be done later, and he said the Federal Communications Commission has no such requirement for timely repairs.

"We have to answer a customer's call within X number of seconds. If we don't, we get penalized. No other company that provides phone service has to do that," Santoro told the News Service. He said, "They're all regulations that were formed when we were a monopoly, and they haven't been changed."

The state was previously served by New England Telephone, Nynex, and then Bell Atlantic.

"It's the land-line issue, primarily. The one remaining bastion of Ma Bell, you know, who, God love, the grand lady has long since passed on," said DiNatale, who said his bill will need some changes to advance. He said, "There's components to it that we need to tweak. I think the chairmen both know that, and I'm certainly going to get to yes, get across the goal line."

Santoro said the legislation would allow the old regulations to remain in the generally rural parts of the state, where Verizon retains a local monopoly.

"The bill says: In any area of the state where there is no competition, continue with the regulations," Santoro said. He said 43 communities are in that situation.

DiNatale, who said he has filed the bill before, said it is time for the Legislature to reassess the role of the state's telecommunications regulator.