Proposed legislation has raised worries that some rural areas in Kentucky could lose traditional landline phone service should the bill pass. Senate Bill 88, a telephone deregulation bill, has passed the state Senate and now moves to the the House of Representatives.
Communications Director for the Senate Majority Lourdes Baez said there are protections written into the bill that will not allow existing landlines to be pulled out of service, according to previous reports.
AT&T Public Affairs Representative Brad Rateike said no one will be losing landline service as a result of this bill passing.
“This bill is not about taking anyone’s service away,” said Rateike. “It’s about investing in more advanced wireless and broadband service throughout Kentucky including eastern Kentucky where it is needed the most.”
According to Rateike, the proposed legislation requires a service provider to continue providing landline services at existing residences unless there is either an alternate voice service offered or the Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC) relieves it of that obligation.
Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, said the bill is an attempt to end carrier of last resort responsibilities and would affect the availability of landline service.
“What Senate Bill 88 does is to immediately end their obligation as the carrier of last resort with respect to any new residence,” said FitzGerald. “If you build a house tomorrow in the AT&T, Windstream or Cincinnati Bell service area, and you ask them to provide you basic landline phone service, they could say no, we’re not doing any new landlines, you’re going to have to accept our wireless service.”
FitzGerald said the responsibility to provide stand alone basic service would be abolished if the legislation is passed.
“This is part of a national strategy on the part of AT&T,” said FitzGerald. “They have asked the Federal Communications Commission to begin what they call beta tests. What they want to do is end the publicly switched telephone network which requires them to allow other carriers to use their lines to access customers — which requires that they be regulated.”
FitzGerald said AT&T desires a move to an all Internet protocol.
“They basically want to end the publicly switched telephone network as we know it,” said FitzGerald. “And with that, you would end what has been policy in this nation since 1934, which is universal access, interconnection, competition and affordability, safety and reliability.”
According to FitzGerald, those principles should not change just because technology changes.
“AT&T is using this so called transition to Internet protocol as an excuse to get out from under regulations,” said FitzGerald.
FitzGerald pointed to storms in the last few years as evidence of the unreliability of wireless systems in an emergency situation.
“Having gone through ice storms and wind storms in the last couple of years in eastern Kentucky and even Louisville, the wireless system was out,” said FitzGerald. “They’re not required to maintain the sort of back ups that the wire systems are required to maintain… look at the storm that hit New York and New Jersey. Everybody was scurrying around to find a pay phone because the pay phones were the only telecommunications that were working because they have their own direct current as well as the voice and data.”
FitzGerald said the bill does contain an “out” for the requirement that existing landlines remain in service.
“Unless they can provide an alternative voice service,” said FitzGerald. “That’s the provision in the bill that allows them an out. They don’t have to go to the PSC, they don’t have to file a petition. They could say to existing customers we’re no longer going to service your home phone through a landline. You have to accept our wireless phone service.”
Reach Joe P. Asher at 606-573-4510 or email@example.com