For years, Rosalie Keuchler of Rock Hall has been paying toll charges to telephone her brother in Centreville, just down the road.
The reason: Rock Hall's local calling area is limited to two jurisdictions, Rock Hall and Chestertown. Calls to anywhere else cost extra.
Rock Hall is one of dozens of towns in Maryland where local calling is limited to a few nearby communities. In the Baltimore area, by contrast, there is no toll for calls in a 1,000-square-mile area.
The discrepancy has not been lost on Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., which submitted a proposal last week to the Public Service Commission to expand the calling areas of 61 rural areas, including Rock Hall. The proposal was part of a larger plan to revamp C&P's rate structure statewide.
The C&P proposal would leave no local calling area with fewer than three exchanges -- the customer's home exchange plus two others.
Jim Tracy, manager of regulatory relations for C&P, said the company hasn't received many complaints about calling areas from customers who live in the 61 rural areas.
But the company was aware from conversations with community leaders, the Public Service Commission and others that changes were needed, he said. The pending rate case before the commission, he said, seemed like the "opportune time" to
proceed with those changes.
"Given today's telecommunications usage and the fact that people are as mobile as they are, it seemed like the right thing to do," Mr. Tracy said.
C&P estimates it will lose about $700,000 annually in revenues if the proposed changes are approved but will make that up from rate increases that have been proposed for other services.
Monthly service charges for customers in places such as Rock Hall are slightly lower than those in urban areas.
Baltimoreans pay $16.15 a month for basic, unlimited phone service. Customers in Rock Hall pay $14.88 for the same service.
Under the C&P proposal, customers in the 61 targeted sites would still pay less than their urban counterparts.
Last week's proposal was the first time C&P had proposed a major overhaul of calling areas for rural Maryland.
Calling areas for the state's urban areas, including Baltimore, were overhauled in the mid-1970s. There have been only a few adjustments in those areas since.
Ms. Keuchler, Rock Hall's mayor, called C&P's proposal "very good news."
"We've been waiting a long time," she said. "C&P said eventually we'd get it [expanded calling]. Perhaps it's here."