UNITY — UniTel, the regional telecommunications company with offices in Unity, has notified customers it is doing away with email accounts issued as part of its services, a move that has prompted objections from some customers and a complaint to the state.

The decision is part of a realignment of services as the company works to remain competitive in an evolving industry, according to Karla Frederick, UniTel’s vice president of Maine operations.

“They (the email accounts) were a free service that was offered to customers,” Frederick said. “Some people use them and some people do not.”

UniTel serves Waldo County customers in Unity, Burnham, Knox, Thorndike, Troy, Lincolnville, Belfast, Searsport and the surrounding area, as well as customers in Albion, Dixmont, Newburgh and more.

Some UniTel customers said they have had their email addresses for years, and the company’s decision to stop offering email by Oct. 1 presents problems.

Bonnie Woellner of Troy said she and her husband use their UniTel email account to pay bills, send and receive correspondence and track deliveries of medicine to their home. Her husband’s business also relies on a UniTel email account.

“They explained it was to ‘give us more freedom and choice,’” Woellner said by email, adding a UniTel representative was not helpful in resolving the matter.

Another Troy resident who sent a letter of complaint to the Office of the Public Advocate wrote to The Republican Journal saying, “We’ve been paying for the accounts as part of internet and phone packages all along. The new owners are trying to pretend the accounts have been a ‘free service.'”

Yet another Troy resident, Greg Rossel, said UniTel provided inadequate notification of the move, and there has been a lack of support in helping customers transition to new email accounts.

“I thought about the elderly customers who probably also did not see the note either and what are they going to do? Who is going to help them out?” Rossel said, explaining a small, hard-to-notice notification of the decision was included in a recent bill.

Rossel said in an email he has been a UniTel customer for about 45 years, since it was the Unity Telephone Co. He said he has used his UniTel-provided email account for more than two decades for personal, business and teaching purposes.

At the Unity Public Library, Rossel received help recently to create a Gmail account. Gmail is a free email service provided by Google. Rossel said the process took hours and he still does not know how he will connect with all his contacts.

“My emails will likely end up in spam filters. That will likely mean lost income or contact. But, honestly, it’s a feeling of betrayal,” Rossel said. “The customers felt they had an implied contract with UniTel. A quarter of a century of being loyal, paying customers will do that to you.”

Frederick said UniTel customers were sent a notification with their bills informing them of the email change. Information on the move was also posted on UniTel’s website and Facebook page, and customers are to receive another notification with this month’s bill.

UniTel’s decision to discontinue the email service is part of a broader effort to reduce prices for internet packages, Frederick said, adding customers will no longer be required to have UniTel telephone service.

The company has provided customers instructions on how to forward emails and explained options for creating new accounts, including Gmail and Yahoo, Frederick said.

It is not clear how many customers will be affected by the move. Frederick said such information about customers is confidential.

Andrew Landry, the state’s deputy public advocate, said there is nothing in Maine law that addresses the issue of a company rescinding email accounts for customers.

“That’s unfortunately not something regulated by the Public Utilities Commission,” he said.

Landry said the Maine Office of the Public Advocate had received one complaint about the matter as of early this week.

Direct Communications, headquartered in Rockland, Idaho, completed its purchase of UniTel in March.

A news release issued at the time of the acquisition said UniTel offices would remain in Unity and “there will be no hiccups in service.”