MPSC ends investigation ensuring customers of phone company that exited Michigan had access to other service

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   June 10, 2020

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The Michigan Public Service Commission today concluded its efforts to ensure that customers of a telephone service provider seeking to discontinue operating in Michigan were able to find alternative providers of basic local phone service (Case No. U-20623).  

Talk America Services, LLC, (TAS) filed notice in August 2019 that it wanted to discontinue service for about 4,600 customers in Michigan. While the Commission found that TAS complied with state and federal requirements for serving notice of discontinuance of service, the Commission also received a dozen complaints from customers saying they were unable to find alternative providers of comparable voice service with reliable access to 911 and emergency services. 

The Commission launched an investigation in December, directing all incumbent local exchange carriers and competitive local exchange carriers operating in TAS’s service area to file statements with the MPSC listing all of the specific types of comparable voice service with reliable access to 911 and emergency services that they provide in that service area. More than 80 providers responded, and the MPSC published a list of alternative providers for customers to consider. 

This marked the first time that the Commission used provisions of the Michigan Telecommunications Act, updated in 2014, to launch an investigation to ensure customers would be able to find an alternative provider of comparable service. If a provider seeks to discontinue service, and at least one suitable alternative is not available to customers, the law gives the MPSC the authority to require the provider to continue providing service until a comparable alternative is available.

The case underscores the importance of a safety net established under state law to ensure no customers in Michigan are left without access to telephone service that includes 911 and emergency services. The protections are particularly critical as telecommunications technology undergoes a significant transformation away from traditional landline phones toward more wireless and broadband-based communications services. These services are vital to connecting Michiganders to their families, friends and communities and opportunities in education, health, government services and employment.   

“We take seriously our commitment to ensuring Michiganders have access to basic local phone service, 911 and emergency services,” MPSC Chairman Sally Talberg said. “We’re pleased that the process in this case was handled smoothly and resulted in all of these customers of TAS who filed complaints with the Commission being transitioned to alternative telecommunications providers.”  

TAS provided notice to the MPSC on April 27 that it no longer has any Michigan customers. MPSC Staff then notified the Commission that all customer complaints had been resolved and the MPSC’s investigation completed, and therefore recommended closing the docket in this case. The Commission today ordered the case closed. 

New statewide map of Wi-Fi hotspots available 

During today’s meeting, Commissioner Tremaine Phillips reminded the public of the availability of a new statewide map of free Wi-Fi hotspots. This resource was made available through a partnership with state agencies and Connected Nation Michigan. The map — an interim step in the statewide push to expand broadband access to rural areas and communities with persistent poverty — provides locations for free access to broadband internet for Michiganders who may not have access to it at home, for lack of availability or affordability. The map is available here

MPSC ISSUES SHOW-CAUSE ORDERS FOR MARTELL CABLE, BLUE JAY WIRELESS 

A mid-Michigan cable provider with a history of noncompliance with state reporting requirements, including a failure to pay a $1,500 fine for violations, has been ordered to show cause why it should not be held further in violation of the law (Case No. U-20743). The MPSC in November (Case No. U-20504) fined Martell Cable Service $500 for each of three violations of the Uniform Video Service’s Franchise Act, or $1,500 total, for failure to meet basic legal filing requirements while operating a cable service business for about 67 customers in Vermontville and Nashville, Mich.  Martell must file a response by 5 p.m. June 23, 2020. The company also is ordered to appear at a prehearing conference scheduled for 9 a.m. on July 1, 2020. Separately, the MPSC issued a show-cause order for Blue Jay Wireless, LLC, to explain why it should not be held in violation of federal and state laws and Commission orders pertaining to required filings for the company to be an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier authorized to offer discounted Lifeline service to wireless customers (Case No. U-20744). Blue Jay is ordered to file a response by 5 p.m. June 23, 2020, and appear with counsel at a prehearing conference scheduled for 9:30 a.m. July 1, 2020. 

MPSC APPROVES CLARIFICATIONS IN CONTRACT DISPUTE BETWEEN INDEPENDENT POWER SUPPLIER GERONIMO ENERGY AND DTE ELECTRIC 

The MPSC today approved a motion for clarification sought by solar developer Geronimo Energy, LLC, addressing concerns raised by the independent power producer regarding its power purchase agreements (PPA) under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act with DTE Electric Co. (Case No. U-18091). The Commission’s order directs DTE Electric to file a revised Standard Offer tariff and Standard Offer PPA to include the use of surety bonds as a permissible means of credit support, and to file a revised Standard Offer PPA that addresses exclusivity concerns raised by Geronimo, developer of a 20-megawatt solar farm in St. Clair County with which DTE has contracted for electricity output. 

To look up cases from today’s meeting, access the E-Dockets filing system here.  

To watch recordings of the MPSC’s meetings, click here.  

For information about the MPSC, visit www.Michigan.gov/MPSC, sign up for one of its listservs, or follow the Commission on Twitter. 

DISCLAIMER: This document was prepared to aid the public’s understanding of certain matters before the Commission and is not intended to modify, supplement, or be a substitute for the Commission’s orders. The Commission’s orders are the official action of the Commission. 

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