Bill to lift land-line requirement for phone companies passes Senate 34-4

01/30/2014 04:14 PM

The Senate started early in the session to pass a telephone service deregulation bill that has stumbled in the final days of the past two sessions.

The measure passed the Senate 34-4 Thursday afternoon after coming out of a committee earlier in the day.

Senate Bill 99, which has become known around the Capitol as the AT&T bill, would change the law to no longer require carriers to offer basic land-line phone service in urban areas with 15,000 or more houses.

The plan would be to provide those customers with service through a wireless plan or Internet technology.

For rural area customers under 15,000 units, nothing would change as they would be allowed to keep their land-line phones but carriers would not be required to supply land-line service in newly constructed areas, said Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, the sponsor of the bill.

Hornback said the bill is aimed at encouraging Kentucky phone carriers to invest more in current and future communications technology by dropping the requirement to provide land-line service, considering fewer people are choosing to buy it.

“It’s about investing in the Commonwealth of Kentucky to make sure that all of our citizens have the technology to move forward in the 21st century,” said Hornback.

Brad McLean, director of legislative affairs for AT&T Kentucky, says that the bill will allow his company to invest money into future technology instead of outdated technology.

“Every dollar that we spend on the old network is a dollar that we’re not spending on the new network,” McLean said.

Some voiced displeasure with the bill during the committee meeting.

Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, said he was pleased with the changes to allow rural customers to keep their land-line service, but he still has reservations about the bill as a whole.

“It’s relieving A T & T of obligations to provide service because it no longer wants to be a utility,” said FitzGerald. “It wants to basically provide, on a discriminatory basis, the services that it believes are profitable to the people and the areas that it believes is profitable to serve.”

Randy Hollis of the Kentucky Cable Association said his organization, whose members increasingly compete against AT&T for Internet and land-line customers, said he concerned that companies like AT&T would not be subject to federal regulations.

“The proposed change in the law could create of loophole allowing AT&T to claim it’s no longer subject to critical federal requirements administered by the Kentucky Public Service Commission,” Hollis said.

Hornback disagreed, saying that the bill changes nothing as far as the Kentucky Public Service Commissions oversight.

“This changes nothing in the jurisdiction that PSC has already with carrier to carrier,” said Hornback. “Everything stays the same.”

On the Senate floor, the four no votes came from Democratic Sens. Robin Webb of Grayson and Denise Harper Angel of Louisville and Republican Sens. Stan Humphries of Cadiz and Albert Robinson of London.


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