Land-line phone deregulation bill sails through Senate committee despite concerns

02/11/2013 07:16 PM

UPDATED WITH VIDEO — A bill aimed at dropping certain rules for phone companies passed a Senate committee Monday despite concerns that it could leave some rural customers without reliable telephone service.

Senate Bill 88 that’s sponsored by Republican Sen. Paul Hornback of Shelbyville passed the Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor committee Monday evening by a 9-1 vote. The lone dissenting vote came from Democratic Sen. Julian Carroll, the former governor from Frankfort.

The legislation aims to roll back certain regulations and would allow phone companies to no longer have to run or maintain land-line telephone service to areas in which another provider operates. (Disclosure: Cable companies, including Insight’s parent company Time Warner Cable, have opposed the bill.)

The primary concern voiced by opponents Monday was that the changes would leave rural Kentuckians, particularly seniors, without reliable phone service. Cell coverage in rural areas can sometimes by spotty, said Mary Love, an Oldham County resident and member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.

And it could leave seniors — more than 80 percent of whom rely on land-line service — vulnerable to price increases if there is less competition in their area for land line service, said Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council.

FitzGerald told the committee that the legislation essentially allows wireless phone providers like AT&T, Windstream and Cincinnati Bell to get out of their “basic service requirements.”

Hornback said the changes would have the most effect on phone companies’ decisions to enter new developments. It’s less likely that the providers would cut off existing land line services to areas.

The measure has become known as the AT&T bill after the company that has led the charge for the deregulation measure.

But Patrick Turner from AT&T testified that the purpose of the bill isn’t to cut off wired service to rural customers.

“The bill is not about trying to stop serving voice customers. We’re still the company people point to to say ‘That is reliable service.’ We’re still the company people can look to to say, ‘That is the benchmark.’ And nothing is going to change,” he said.

Hornback told his Senate colleagues that the bill is aimed at catching Kentucky up to 20 other states that already deregulated their local phone industries. And it would replace antiquated laws that have been in place since an era when telephone wire service was the only form of telecommunications.


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