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Public Utility Commission Rules It Can't Force Company To Turn DSL Service On For CoverageCo

A stretch of road with a mini cell tower on a utility pole that a car is driving by.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Consolidated Communications provided DSL service to power the micro-antennas that are part of network run by CoverageCo - like the one seen here in Townshend - but the company cut its service because CoverageCo owes them more than $100,000.

The state says it can’t force Consolidated Communications to turn its DSL service back on for the troubled CoverageCo cell phone provider.CoverageCo operates a series of antennas in rural parts of the state that provide cell service in areas that otherwise are outside of the normal coverage area.

But CoverageCo has been struggling to pay the companies that provide the backhaul services that support its cell coverage.

CoverageCo owes Consolidated Communications more than $100,000, and so on May 23, Consolidated turned off the DSL connections that power about 120 of the microcells in the CoverageCo network.

CoverageCo asked the Public Utility Commission to order Consolidated to turn its service back on, but in an order issued Monday, the PUC said federal telecommunications law prevents it from getting involved in the dispute.

“This case involves an unfortunate situation that, at the moment, does not appear to have a solution within the Commission’s ability to provide,” the commissioners wrote in the eight-page ruling.

CoverageCo told the Public Utility Commission that the move created “an immediate threat to public health and safety by reducing the availability of cell phone service - and the ability of cell phone users to call 911 - in areas where CoverageCo’s microcells provided the only service available.”

The Public Utility Commission said it has no jurisdiction over the broadband DSL service, and under federal law, information services cannot be regulated by states.

State regulators, therefore, cannot force Consolidated to turn its service back on, even though Vermonters could be at risk of losing emergency 911 service in some of the coverage areas.

The state has been working with CoverageCo to try to find a resolution, and the company promised to provide complete financial information by the end of June. In the PUC ruling Monday, the state said it was very hard to determine how CoverageCo's cell service was operating at this point.

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