The AP has a good story (seen here via the Portland Press-Herald site) about a Maine law that will let Fairpoint start edging away from the universal-service mandate, which requires landline phone companies to make access available to virtually everyone.

The Maine law phases out state oversight of the old-style service, removing regulations first in seven cities where there is competition among providers and adding more communities until a limit of 22 is reached. The law allows FairPoint to ask regulators for permission to discontinue landline service altogether in those communities if regulators determine the public would benefit.

The battleground now moves to California. Lawmakers there last week heard testimony on a bill advanced by AT&T that would allowed the company to discontinue legacy phone service in areas where alternative phone services are available.

Universal service is a creation from the days of Ma Bell’s monopology service throughout most of the country. It was a way to get phones to poor and rural areas where the business model didn’t make sense, in return for protection from competition. Phones companies face competition today, so they’ve long argued that mandates like universal service are unfair.

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