Verizon seeks deregulation of its landline phone service

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Remember the landline telephone?

Such a quaint and old-fashioned notion that more and more Pennsylvanians are rejecting. But some households still need to be wired.

“Particularly the elderly, who may rely on that landline service for medical and emergency purposes,” said Tanya McCloskey, the state’s acting consumer advocate.

The prices that Verizon can charge for landline-only customers is currently regulated by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, but Verizon has petitioned the PUC to take those pricing handcuffs off in six of the state’s largest markets; Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie, Harrisburg, York, Scranton-Wilkes-Barre.

The PUC is expected to rule on it during its Thursday public hearing.

“Less regulation of this service really is warranted because of the presence of strong competition that really keeps prices in check,” explained Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski.

Competition like wireless and cable that have become increasingly popular with consumers.

But the state’s top consumer watchdog argues that those other phone options aren’t as reliable or safe as landlines. She further argues that if Verizon wins its deregulation it will have a monopoly when it comes to landline service and that will cost customers more.

“We don’t believe there are sufficient competitors of the same type of service to provide price restraint on Verizon from increasing the price of its basic local service,” McCloskey said.

Representative Peter Daley (D-Fayette/Washington) is the minority chairman of the House Consumer Affairs Committee who opposes Verizon’s petition.

“I don’t want to see seniors gouged and I don’t want to see anyone in Pennsylvania gouged and that could happen,” Daley said.

Daley said the legislature’s been studying the proposal for three years. He said Verizon lobbied lawmakers hard, failed to pass a bill, and is now doing an end run around the legislature by seeking the PUC’s blessing. It would only require support from three of the five commissioners.

“That’s an affront to us, that’s an affront to every member of the General Assembly,” Daley said. “I think the legislature should deal with this issue, not the PUC.

Verizon argues that if it raises prices too high on its landline service, customers will simply go elsewhere.

“Competition is really gonna provide the checks and balances for rates for services,” Gierczynski said.

But McCloskey says that’s good in theory, but in practice, there are states where Verizon’s been deregulated.

“And the price has gone up in those areas,” McCloskey said.

Verizon’s petition deals with its landline-only customers, which is a small part of its overall business. The vast majority of its customers have bundled services with cable and Internet. It’s unclear if its push to deregulate landline will effect pricing for its other offerings.

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