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The Public Advocate and his Staff of seven regularly respond to concerns brought directly to the Office's in Hallowell by walk-in consumers, by email or by mail. Although it is the Consumer Assistance Division within the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that has formal complaint processing authority under Maine laws, we often intercede for utility consumers on an informal basis, seeking the reconnection of power or the resolution of a billing dispute with a Maine utility. Public Advocate Staff often work closely with citizen groups in bringing to the PUC petitions for improved utility service or for utility system expansions.
Where to Go For Help When Having a Dispute With a Service Provider
Utilities – In Maine, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has jurisdiction over telephone, electric, gas and water utilities. Technically, the PUC has jurisdiction over local and instate long-distance service but not interstate service. However, many disputes involve both so the PUC will generally try to assist in resolving long-distance service disputes. They generally do not have jurisdiction over wireless companies and cable companies. Staff members can help prevent disconnection of service, assist in setting up a fair payment arrangement, give advice concerning rules that apply to utility service, and can often resolve service or billing disputes. Decisions of the Consumer Assistance Division may be appealed to the full 3-member Commission.
Cable Companies – Cable TV and Internet service providers are largely unregulated businesses. The FCC in Washington D.C. has authority to regulate cable service and there are some federal rules that govern service standards. In addition, since local municipalities periodically approve the franchise agreement with the cable operator, there may be some service standards to be enforced by your town. However, in most cases, neither your town nor the FCC will be of much help in resolving an individual dispute.
Wireless Companies – Like Cable companies, wireless companies are largely unregulated with respect to service quality and billing disputes with consumers. Only a few states have adopted service quality standards that apply to wireless companies. In Maine, as a result of a settlement with various state attorneys general, Cingular, Verizon and Sprint have agreed to provide detailed coverage maps, clearly stated contract terms, and a period of at least 14 days as a grace period for cancellation of a wireless contract. Unicel has agreed to comply with certain Maine utility consumer protection rules in exchange for being made eligible to receive federal universal service subsidies. US Cellular is currently applying for those subsidies and we expect those rules to apply to them as well. Some carriers already allow a 30 day grace period for cancellation.
Internet Services – (Dial-Up, DSL, wireless or Cable-Modem) – Another unregulated service. Even if your Internet service is provided by an affiliate of a regulated telephone company, the PUC has no jurisdiction over the Internet service, and telephone utilities are under no obligation to improve your telephone line to allow adequate dial-up or DSL Internet Service.
Maine PUC – 1-800-452-4699 – (public utility complaints and dispute resolution).
Federal Communications Commission – www.fcc.gov 1-888-225-5322 firstname.lastname@example.org – (complaints concerning cable or wireless companies – but the FCC will not investigate individual contract or billing disputes).
Maine Attorney General – 207-626-8800 email@example.com (provides consumer mediation services and may take action in the case of an unfair or deceptive practice by any business in Maine).