Vermont Vendor Dispute Affects Rural 9-1-1 Service
Wednesday, June 20, 2018 | Comments

A dispute in Vermont that has left a significant portion of the state without cellphone service — and in turn 9-1-1 service — might require FCC or other federal action.

The Vermont Public Utility Commission (PUC) dismissed for lack of jurisdiction a petition filed by Vanu Coverage Co. (CoverageCo) for an emergency temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief against Consolidated Communications Holding.

Many parts of Vermont lack wireless coverage, and during the past five years, CoverageCo with state support has provided microcells in some rural areas without coverage. CoverageCo leased from Vermont about 160 microcells and attached them to telephone polls owned by Consolidated and others. Consolidated provides CoverageCo with a digital subscriber line (DSL) connection to enable the wireless transmission of the microcells, providing coverage and 9-1-1 service to residents in the unserved areas.

However, CoverageCo ran into financial difficulties and owes more than $100,000 to Consolidated, which cut off service to CoverageCo May 23. CoverageCo then filed its emergency petition asking the PUC to order Consolidated to restore service because of the lack of 9-1-1 service.

The Vermont Department of Public Service noted that a significant portion of those same areas of operation have alternative coverage and do not lose 9-1-1 availability because of Consolidated cutting off CoverageCo service.

“Nevertheless, we do not doubt that Consolidated’s decision has led to a decrease in cellphone coverage — and access to 9-1-1 via cell phones — in certain areas,” the PUC order said. “It is also troubling that, regardless of whether Consolidated provides service to CoverageCo’s microcells, a significant portion of Vermont remains without cellphone coverage and therefore without access to 9-1-1 via a cellphone. It is equally, if not more, troubling that, even if Vermont someday achieves complete cellphone coverage throughout the state, a significant portion of Vermonters who cannot afford cellphones will still be without the ability to access 9-1-1 via a cellphone.”

The FCC holds that DSL service — a broadband service classified as an information service — can’t be regulated by state PUCs. The Vermont PUC said federal courts have agreed with the FCC that a purely information service can’t be regulated by states, and it therefore lacks jurisdiction.

Consolidated Communications last year acquired FairPoint Communications, which provides a next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1) system and 9-1-1 services in Vermont, and now operates under the Consolidated Communications name.

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