DE 98-085
                               BELL ATLANTIC
                Order Granting Opportunity to Poll Citizens
                          O R D E R  N O.  23,037
                              October 7, 1998
               On May 5, 1998, the New Hampshire Public Utilities
     Commission (Commission) received a petition from Margaret Drye
     and Laura Wilder (Petitioners) requesting expansion of the
     Plainfield 675 local calling area, also known as Extended Area
     Service (EAS), to include the New Hampshire exchanges of Hanover,
     Lebanon, West Lebanon, and Meriden; and the White River Junction,
     Vermont exchange.
               On May 5, 1998, the Commission issued an Order of
     Notice scheduling a hearing on August 6, 1998.  The Order of
     Notice indicated that EAS petitions are subject to a standard
     established by Order No. 22,204 issued June 18, 1996 which
     includes consideration of community of interest, the effect on
     telecommunications competition within New Hampshire, and
     consistency with state and federal law.  The Order of Notice also
     indicated that written comments would be accepted until one week
     after the hearing, that is, until August 15, 1998.
               On August 6, 1998, at the Plainfield Town Hall, the
     Commission received written and oral comments from residents of
     the area, including State Representatives Clifton Below, Peter
     Hoe Burling, Larry Guaraldi, and Merle Schotanus.  The Commission
     heard comments from the New England Telephone & Telegraph Company
     d/b/a Bell Atlantic and hereinafter referred to as Bell Atlantic. 
     The Commission announced its decision in a public meeting on
     August 17, 1998.  On September 11, 1998, one of the Petitioners,
     Margaret Drye, filed a letter commenting on the Commission's
          A.   Petitioners
               A number of Plainfield and Cornish residents submitted
     comments at the hearing, both written and oral, in support of
     expanding the Plainfield Exchange to include the petitioned
     exchanges.  In addition, the Commission received a number of
     letters from Plainfield Exchange residents who did not attend the
     hearing.  The primary argument put forth is that a community of
     interest exists between Plainfield and the five petitioned
     exchanges.  The commenters supported their argument with
     information about the percentage of Plainfield residents who work
     in Lebanon and Hanover, the fact that Plainfield residents attend
     Lebanon High School and use Hanover medical and educational
     facilities,  and their inability to call major business centers
     in Lebanon and West Lebanon without incurring a toll charge.  In
     addition, commenters pointed out that the elderly, who can least
     afford a rate increase, would benefit by eliminating their toll
     expenses to doctors and medical facilities.  A number of
     commenters stated that the Plainfield calling area which provides
     no toll-free calling to the North or East, is inferior to most
     calling areas in New Hampshire and this results in higher than
     average toll billing for Plainfield customers.  Several
     residents, aware of the Bell Atlantic proposal to expand EAS to
     the contiguous exchanges of Meriden and West Lebanon, said those
     exchanges represented only a small percentage of the calling area
     expansion that Plainfield subscribers need.  
          B.   Bell Atlantic
               Based on the comments at the hearing and letters
     submitted by Plainfield subscribers, Bell Atlantic acknowledged
     that over time calling areas have not always keep pace with
     changing and evolving communities of interest.  Bell Atlantic
     recognizes that New Hampshire is a different place today than it
     was even 20 years ago.  Bell Atlantic pointed out that its
     proposal to add all contiguous exchanges to local calling areas
     throughout the state, which has been approved by the Commission
     and is in the process of implementation, is a response to that
     situation.  The Bell Atlantic Home and Contiguous plan, in
     combination with a reduction in the number of rate groups,
     attempts to develop a balanced plan that meets the needs of the
     greatest number of people throughout the state.  Bell Atlantic
     stated that the EAS rules recently established by the Commission
     also attempt to balance customers sometimes conflicting needs and
     that the Company will comply with the outcome of these rules.
     Bell Atlantic will support that as well.  
               This petition is before us for analysis in light of our
     prior decisions regarding expansion of EAS, the
     Telecommunications Act of 1996 (TAct) and the actual changes in
     telecommunications markets in New Hampshire.
               Our orders in DE 97-046, DR 97-038 and DR 97-075,
     recounted the lengthy EAS investigation which resulted in our
     refusal to impose a statewide change to EAS, finding instead that
     increased competition in the toll market as a result of intraLATA
     presubscription and other changes mandated by the TAct would
     effectively reduce toll charges.  Order No. 20,107 (April 15,
     1996).  By Order No. 22,204, issued June 18, 1996, we also found
     that carriers and communities retained the right to petition for
     EAS expansion and articulated the standard for assessing an EAS
     petition.  The standard applies a community of interest approach
     as defined in FCC Docket No. 96-45, In the Matter of Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service, Report and Order, FCC 97-157, released May 8, 1997 and hereinafter referred to as the
     Universal Service Order.  In the FCC's opinion, a calling area
     which reflects the community of interest is one which "allows
     subscribers to call hospitals, schools and other essential
     services without incurring a toll charge."  Further elaborating
     on the issue of affordability, the FCC states in its Universal
     Service order that "...affordability is affected by the amount of
     toll charges a consumer incurs to contact essential service
     providers such as hospitals, schools, and government offices that
     are located outside of the consumers local calling area...".
               We use the FCC definitions to facilitate examination of
     the Plainfield petition.  From the comments made by customers in
     the Plainfield Exchange at the public hearing on August 6, 1998,
     the exchange does not appear to encompass their community of
     interest.  Further, we are convinced that the anticipated
     addition of the contiguous exchanges of West Lebanon and Meriden
     will not fully capture the community of interest for at least a
     sizeable group of residents of Plainfield for the purposes of
     meeting their medical, educational, and business needs.  We will
     therefore grant the Petitioners' request that there be a poll of
     their fellow residents on the issue of expanding EAS for the 675
     exchange to include Hanover and Lebanon Exchanges.  No reciprocal 
     ballot of Hanover and Lebanon customers is necessary because
     expansion of the Hanover and Lebanon EAS to include Plainfield
     will not result in a rate group increase, nor will it
     substantially advance the date of any future increase.
               The question upon which residents will be polled will
     be limited to the rate increase caused by the change in rate
     group which results from the increased number of lines reachable
     without paying a toll charge.  No surcharge for lost revenues is
     appropriate at this time.  As we stated in Order No. 22,675 in DR
     97-046, given the advent of competition in the toll market the
     goal of revenue neutrality is elusive.
               As in our decisions in DE 97-038, DE 97-046, DE 97-075
     and DE 97-193, in order to insure maximum effective response by
     customers, the polling ballot will be designed, distributed, and
     tabulated by the Commission.  The ballot question shall include a
     statement of the increased rate necessitated by the expanded
     calling area.  The poll shall be considered valid if ballots are
     returned by 25% or more of the customer base.  The outcome of a
     valid vote will be determined by a simple majority of the
     returned ballots.
               We find that no community of interest was established
     between Plainfield and White River Junction, Vermont.  While
     virtually all comments supported the need for the Hanover,
     Lebanon and West Lebanon Exchanges, relatively few mentioned the
     need for White River and these few comments were unconvincing.  
     Furthermore, if Plainfield subscribers vote in favor of the
     ballot question we propose, they will have a choice of the
     Claremont, Windsor, Hanover, Lebanon and West Lebanon exchanges
     for their community of interest.  We find that the presence of
     some residents who choose not to utilize one of those five
     communities of interest, and who prefer the White River Junction
     exchange, does not constitute a community of interest for the
     majority of Plainfield residents.  Finally, while not a factor in
     our decision regarding White River Junction, we wish to make
     Plainfield subscribers aware that attempts to add that exchange
     would require actions by Bell Atlantic-Vermont and the Federal
     Communications Commission's approval.
               Petitioner Margaret Drye filed comments September 11,
     1998, urging us to add White River Junction, Vermont to the
     ballot.  These comments were filed after our oral deliberations
     of this case.  Although the comments may be characterized as a
     premature motion for reconsideration, we will nonetheless address
     them.  We remain convinced that a community of interest was not
     established between White River Junction and Plainfield.  As
     clearly described in the letter, some residents simply choose to
     utilize educational, medical or business opportunities in White
     River instead of the potential five communities of interest that
     will be available to them.  We reiterate that it is not uncommon
     that some residents will choose to utilize services beyond the
     calling area but that does not establish a community of interest
     for the majority of customers. 
               Based upon the foregoing, it is hereby 
               ORDERED, that a vote on the EAS issue shall be
     conducted as described above for expansion of the Plainfield
     exchange to include the Hanover and Lebanon exchanges; and it is
               FURTHER ORDERED, that Bell Atlantic shall provide the
     Commission with a list of Plainfield Exchange customers, names,
     addresses and telephone numbers, and to the extent technically
     possible, in mailing label or PC format by October 20, 1998.
               By order of the Public Utilities Commission of New
     Hampshire this seventh day of October, 1998. 
        Douglas L. Patch    Bruce B. Ellsworth        Susan S. Geiger
            Chairman           Commissioner            Commissioner
     Attested by:
     Thomas B. Getz
     Executive Director and Secretary