By Ilana Kowarski
A Democratic committee chairman in House debate Thursday said that he felt like he was in the “twilight zone” because he was arguing on behalf of business, and his Republican opponent was voicing concern for state consumers.
Del. Dereck Davis, D-Prince George’s County, was stunned by the resistance he faced from Anne Arundel County Republican Herbert McMillan during the debate over a bill which halves the number of free 411 calls that Verizon’s customers can make from their residential phones.
The legislation had been unanimously approved by the Senate, but it was more controversial in the House of Delegates, where it passed with a 104-31 vote, including eight Democrats in opposition.
Bill limits free 411 calls to two, charge would be $2 for additional calls
McMillan was the bill’s most vocal opponent, and he argued that it would have a disproportionate impact on elderly people who are not as comfortable looking up phone numbers on the internet.
Right now, Maryland homeowners with Verizon phones can make four free 411 calls per month, but in October when this law takes effect, they will only get two per month, and they will have to pay $2 for each additional 411 call.
McMillan said that this policy change would put an undue burden on consumers and the cost savings to Verizon does not justify the inconvenience to Maryland citizens.
“I imagine somebody will say that Verizon will save money if we do this and they probably will, but at the end of the day, I think that if you’re a public service company and you’re regulated, that’s the price you pay for doing business,” he said.
Davis, chairman of the Economic Matters Committee, replied that 96.5% of Marylanders would be unaffected by the bill. Fewer than 4% of customers make more than two 411 calls per month.
Impact on elderly raised as an issue
Del. Nancy Stocksdale, R-Carroll, challenged Davis with a rhetorical question: “Have you considered that the people are having the most effect on are senior citizens?”
Davis said that the bill addressed that issue and that senior citizens would receive four free 411 calls per month if they told Verizon that they had poor eyesight or limited internet access. He said that Verizon needed to compete with other communications companies and argued that the majority of Marylanders should not have to subsidize the frequent 411 calls of a small minority through higher phone rates.
Chairman: cost of free calls paid by all consumers
“Those 411 calls have to be paid for by somebody,” Davis said. “Nothing’s really free, as you know.”
McMillan quipped, “Do you really think that Verizon is going to pass the savings onto consumers?”
At which point Davis said, “This feels like the twilight zone.”