The State of Vermont provides certain rights to utility customers through service quality and consumer protection standards, and mandatory utility regulations. The Vermont Public Service Board (PSB or Board) has rules governing utility operation, including: calculating deposits; service disconnection; and a utility's role for making reasonable payment arrangements when residential customers have challenges paying their bills.
Regulated utilities are utilties that provide landline telecommunications, electric, private water, cable television, and natural gas services. These utilities are governed by Board rules for deposits and disconnection of service. With the exception of cable television providers, the above utilities must also comply with Board rules for establishing reasonable payment arrangements for residential customers. The following rules apply:
- PSB Rule 3.200 - Ratepayer Deposits for Gas, Electric, Water, Telephone, and Cable Television Service.
- PSB Rule 3.300 - Disconnection of Residential Gas, Electric, and Water Service.
- PSB Rule 3.400 - Disconnection of Cable Television Service and Non-residential Electric, Gas, and Water Service.
- PSB Rule 7.600 - Standards for Billing, Credit and Collections, and Customer Information for Telecommunications Carriers.
- PSB Rule 8.000 - Cable Television.
Propane gas companies, on the other hand, are not regulated by the Board and operate under a separate set of rules called CF 111. If you have questions or need assistance with a propane issue, contact the Vermont Attorney General's Consumer Assistance Program. Or, for general information about propane regulation and safety, please see the Natural Gas & Propane page.
In Vermont, competition is available in most telephone markets; and consumers have choices with regard to their phone service including cable modem, wireless, and Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP), as well as landline telephone service. However, Board rules only apply to landline telephone service, whereas cable modem digital voice, wireless and VoIP services are not regulated by the Board
Consumer Bill of Rights
Docket 5903, Attachment 2, Consumer Protection Standards and PSB Rule 7.605 establish a Consumer Bill of Rights for landline telephone customers that proscribes the interaction between landline telephone service providers and consumers.
Consumer Protection Standards
PSB Rule 7.600 describes specific consumer protections, including: written confirmation of a service order; unfair or deceptive practices; discrimination; dispute resolution; and privacy provisions. All carriers authorized to provide landline telephone service in Vermont are required to comply with these rules.
Wireless services have increased dramatically in the past few years and many Vermonters now rely soley on their cell phone for their primary telephone and/or for high-speed internet service. Wireless companies that provide telecommunications service fall under the jurisdiction of the Board. However, federal law and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rulings restrict state jurisdiction over wireless services. While wireless services are not regulated by the Board, if consumers have complaints that they haven't been able to resolve with their wireless carriers, the Consumer Affairs & Public Information (CAPI) Division may be able to help.
Cable Digital Voice (CDV) Service
Cable digital voice (CDV) is also a widely available option for telephone service. Although CDV is not regulated by the Board, if consumers are not able to resolve these types of complaints directly with their cable companies, CAPI is available to try and help on an informal basis. (Keep in mind that if the electricity goes out CDV service will also be lost.)
Additionally, CDV is not subject to Board rules requiring Continuous Emergency (911) Access when electricity service is disconnected for non-payment. Also, unlike landline telephone service, CDV service is not protected by Board rules regarding provision of medical notes during a medical emergency in order to maintain or restore service (see PSB Rule 7.623).
Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service is telephone service provided through the internet. The FCC has determined that VoIP is an inter-state information service, rather than a telecommunications service otherwise regulated by the state public utility commissions (such as the Board). Therefore, the Board does not have jurisdiction over VoIP companies or their services. Although less common, CAPI will contact VoIP providers informally to help resolve consumer issues that consumers haven't been able to resolve on their own.
As with CDV service, if electricity is lost for whatever reason VoIP service will also be lost, and if a VoIP provider disconnects service for non-payment there are no protections for Continuous Emergency (911) Access. Additionally, if the internet connection is lost or disconnected, the VoIP service will not work.
The State of Vermont has set a goal of full coverage throughout the state for both wireless and high-speed internet (broadband) services by the end of 2013. Although broadband services are also unregulated by the Board—due to FCC rulings that consider these services to be inter-state information services (similar to VoIP services)—Vermont, through grants and other financial incentives, is encouraging buildout of these services by the private sector. The Vermont Telecommunications Authority (VTA) explains the state's role in the buildout, and has information about projects that are under way.
The VTA has also created a website—broadbandvt.org—where consumers can input their address to see what broadband providers are offering service within their census block and/or to see whether any broadband providers may be offering service to their census block in the future.