New Ratewatcher Telecom Guide offers unbiased advice on Maine utilities’ services

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted Dec. 08, 2013, at 5:33 p.m.

We get questions from time to time about utility services in Maine. The services provided by utilities are complex and quickly changing, and we’re often less than qualified to give consumers good answers.

That’s why we were happy to see the return of a publication by the Office of the Maine Public Advocate. “Ratewatcher Telecom Guide” had been published twice a year as, in the words of OPA staff attorney Wayne Jortner, “the only source of unbiased, side-by-side comparisons of all of the important telecom services used by nearly all people in Maine, all in one place.”

About four years ago, readers began to find the guide only on the MPA website (maine.gov/meopa), due to increasing printing costs. Now, it’s back in print with hard copies mailed to tens of thousands of subscribers last week.

The 24-page booklet is a light in a sometimes dark tunnel of communications options. It cuts through the hype of many ads pushing us toward early upgrades, to get the latest smartphone without renewing a two-year contract.

“Unless you absolutely must have the latest phone, these plans are probably not a good deal,” the guide counsels. We urge consumers to read and decide for themselves.

How about those ads urging us to bundle services? Some might save you money, and others might not. The OPA urges consumers to call their providers and ask if they can get a price break.

While there might not be much wiggle room on a subscriber line charge rate or access recovery charge fee, you might get a deal beyond the much-touted introductory rates that don’t last forever. As with many services, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

The guide compares services from broadband to traditional phone hookups to voice-over-Internet protocols. There’s also a look at six prepaid high-volume voice/text/data plans that operate month-to-month instead of under contract. Four of those plans feature unlimited use. Other articles discuss ways seniors or low-income users can get computers and affordable user plans.

The guide offers a real-world look at the ways we interact and notes a few basic changes. For example, the proliferation of cellphones means prepaid calling cards are less often used than when phone booths dotted the landscape. Prepaid cards are still useful for those who call another country frequently; some cards offer the lowest international rates around. When using cards in the U.S., watch for extra minute deductions for in-state calls and charges for directory assistance or flat per-call surcharges.

The Ratewatcher Telecom Guide is available free online at the public advocate’s page (maine.gov/meopa) or by emailing opa@maine.gov. You can also be added to a list to receive upcoming editions electronically. You may also want to read the January 2014 edition of Consumer Reports for further reviews of phones and calling plans. Find the online article through MARVEL!, Maine’s virtual library at maine.gov/marvel.

Download the Ratewatcher Telecom Guide (PDF)

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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