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Plans to Regulate Telephone Company Released by State Utilities Department

By Warren W. Ludwig

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities yesterday proposed regulations for the New England Telephone Company that would establish the department as the arbitrator of customer-company disputes and place restrictions on the company's right to disconnect customer service.

Implementation of the proposal would place the telephone company under the same kind of direct regulation as the electric and gas utilities, Dorothy MacLean, secretary to Reginald C. Lindsay, Commissioner of the Public Utilities Commission, said yesterday.

The utilities department, she said, has been receiving too many complaints about the telephone company.

Poor Risks and Harvard Students

For customers classified as "unknown" or "poor" risks, and for students using the Harvard centrex system, the proposal would double the time the telephone company must allow for payment of monthly bills.

Regardless of classification, residential bills would not be due until 30 days after customers receive them. Service could be discontinued only after an additional 15 days without payment.

Currently, Harvard students' bills are due 12 days after receipt, and service is discontinued after an additional 11 days without payment.

Other proposed rules would limit the security payments the telephone company can demand when it reconnects telephones and would provide for continuation of service during serious illness, regardless of payments.

Public hearings on the proposal are scheduled to begin in Boston on March 8.

Terry Romano, public relations staff supervisor for the telephone company, said yesterday the company does not want "overly strict regulations" that would cause "those who pay their bills to subsidize those who don't."

"Naturally the telephone company's going to protest," MacLean said. "But they will have to provide quite a bit of ammunition" to back the protest up.

MacLean said she did not know which of the proposed rules will eventually be finalized, and added that although the utilities department makes the final decision, the telephone company can appeal to the state Supreme Court.

After holding public hearings, the utilities department issued a report last November charging the telephone company with an "arrogance of power." It stated that the present system of "unilateral dispute resolution" by the telephone company is "unjust, unreasonable and inadequate."

Jack Caunter, a spokesman for the telephone company's Cambridge office, said yesterday the company usually has slightly more trouble collecting bills from Harvard students than from the average customer, and has considerably more trouble at summer vacations and semester breaks.

Caunter defended the present grace period allowed before disconnection. He said that if a student calls the telephone company and works out a reasonable arrangement for paying his bill, his service is not disconnected.

MacLean said she did not know when the fate of the proposed rules would be settled.

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