New “Soft Dial Tone” Policy May Require E-9-1-1 Service on Most Disconnected Telephone Lines

August 6, 2007

Calling it an “important new public safety and personal security service for Maine telephone users”, the Maine Office of Public Advocate today praised a new law recently enacted by the Maine Legislature that should expand access to E-9-1-1 services throughout Maine. "Enhanced 9-1-1 access-only service" means the provision of E-9-1-1 access to a residential telephone customer's premises when telephone service to the premises has been otherwise suspended or disconnected. When implemented by the Maine Public Utilities Commission, the new law should make it possible for people to call E-9-1-1 to report an emergency situation even from a disconnected telephone.

The Maine Public Advocate, working with the sponsor of LD 1383, Representative Herb Adams, and Maine’s telephone companies, negotiated the terms of the so-called “soft dial tone” legislation that was passed by the Maine Legislature and signed by Governor John E. Baldacci near the end of the recently-concluded legislative session.

“Soft Dial Tone” is the common name for a telephone connection that is limited to E-9-1-1 emergency service. Under the new law, the Public Utilities Commission will determine the detailed requirements that will apply to Maine’s telephone companies governing the provision of this new free service. Wayne Jortner, senior counsel in the Office of Public Advocate, said, “Our office will be urging the PUC to provide the maximum availability of soft dial tone so that emergency E-9-1-1 service will be available whenever emergency service is needed inside a residence with a telephone. If soft dial tone saves even one life a year, it will have proved its worth.”

The equivalent of soft dial tone already exists in the wireless telephone industry as a result of requirements by the Federal Communications Commission. Any cell phone with a charged battery and in the presence of wireless coverage should be capable of connecting to E-9-1-1, even if the phone is not associated with any service plan or prepaid minutes. The new legislation will create that same additional safety net for regular telephone customers.

The Public Utilities Commission’s rulemaking is expected to get underway in the coming months. All interested persons will have an opportunity to file comments in the course of that process. For further information, persons may contact the Public Advocate Office in Hallowell.

Contact Information: Wayne R. Jortner
Office of Public Advocate 207-287-2445

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