Caller ID, C & P Telephone's service that allows Maryland customers to know who is calling even before they pick up the phone, could be restricted by the Maryland Public Service Commission even before it's available to county residents.
The service, which is expected to be available in Carroll by early next year, is part of Bell Atlantic's IQ Network of high-tech phone functions.
In addition to letting you know who is calling, it also allows those you call to see your number as it flashes on a screen.
The phone company is pitching the service -- available now in the Baltimore and Washington areas -- as the latest and most efficient way to combat annoying prank and obscene phone calls.
But state and county domestic violence counselors fear that if abusive people get the service, it could endanger their victims.
Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union also are fighting the service, claiming it is an invasion of privacy.
The Public Service Commission conducted four public hearings throughout the state in September and October to sort through arguments for and against Caller ID.
The commission also conducted an evidentiary hearing in September to allow those on all sides of the issue to present witnesses and testimony.
The commission is expected to decide before Thanksgiving whether it should require the telephone company to offer a free blocking service for people who do not want their phone number known.
The House of Ruth, a domestic violence shelter and advocacy service in Baltimore, presented arguments against Caller ID for a coalition of groups, including the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence.
Domestic violence workers -- including many in Carroll -- believe the service will endanger women who have left their abusers and don't want them to know where they are.
"Domestic violence is an issue of power and control," said Quince Hopkins, a staff attorney at the House of Ruth who presented arguments against Caller ID. "It doesn't only concern women who have left, but those who are still at home. A big issue for abuse is controlling who she talks to and what she does."
Besides displaying a caller's number when the phone rings, Caller ID units also can record several dozen numbers that come in.
"In a way, that is the biggest problem," said Hopkins. "It can keep victims from calling for help in the first place."
But the phone company sees the issue differently. It has already offered a blocking service for shelters and other domestic violence agencies, and its representatives believe that is enough.
"We believe the existing alternatives to the service are sufficient," said Al Berman, C & P spokesman. "Offering free blocking to all customers defeats the purpose of the service."