Land lines going the way of rotary dials on phones.
House Bill 152 and mirror bill Senate Bill 3 got dubbed the "AT & T bill" early in the 2015 session. The legislation has come up in past sessions without success, unless one counts laying the groundwork for HB 152 which passed both Houses and was signed into law in mid-March by Governor Beshear.
The AT & T bill takes regulation of most telecommunications out of the hands of the Public Service Commission. Providers of, let's call it phone service, can now decide to request of the PSC that areas of service with a population of over 15,000 no longer be serviced by land lines. That's both a recognition of how quickly urban areas are moving away from land lines and toward cell and internet services and a measure of the decreasing power base for rural areas. The 15,000 exception sounds good, but not that many areas with a large town will be covered.
Providers complained that servicing a rural area with land lines was a burdensome expense. Rural residents, whose internet access has lagged far behind their city cousins, retorted that internet only service translates into no service at all. The issue of access to emergency 911 services has been a stumbling block to pushing for an end to land lines.
AT & T got two thirds of a loaf. Basic local exchanges with populations of fewer than 15,000 will be exempt from the change. Customers who want to continue with land lines will have a right to continue with their land line. And the PSC will remain the cop to enforce that request. (See HB 152 bill language below)
- If the requesting customer does not order an IP-enabled service or a wireless service, the modifying utility, upon request by the customer, shall provide basic local exchange service at that location. The commission retains the jurisdiction to enforce this obligation.
What is not clear is who will be the cop on the beat the rest of the time. Opponents worry that this bill returns telecommunications to laissez faire government oversight. The Federal Communications Commission would be the natural final authority in a dispute with the phone company. It is hard to believe that anything less than a class action complaint will stir that behemoth agency to action.
AT & T spent thousands to get this bill passed. It will be money well spent. The pay off could be in millions. Savings on maintenance and local support and sales of internet phone access and the bundling of profitable services accompanying a change in provider is an economic incentive.
In a letter to supporters, Hood Harris, AT & T Kentucky President, complimented Rep. Rick Rand (D 47 - Carroll, Gallatin, Henry, Trimble Counties )and Senator Paul Hornbeck (R 20 - Carroll, Henry, Jefferson, Shelby, Trimble Counties) for their bipartisanship sponsorship of the bill. Harris framed the passage in the terms of economic development and job creation.
"Their bipartisan collaboration was instrumental in bringing about this law that will help move Kentucky forward, and Kentuckians can be excited about future opportunities for job creation and economic growth in the Commonwealth."
AT & T reported spending over $37,000 in January and February in support of the bills. Their report to the Legislative Ethics Committee for the remainder of the session is not due yet.
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) opposed the bill citing hardships on the poor and seniors. KFTC alleged that telecommunication services will raise rates indiscriminately and that access for rural areas will be adversely affected.
Moving away from a landline means that the service will work - as long as the internet stays up and working. Residents in areas with unreliable internet service, of which there are several in the Purchase, can do little but keep their fingers crossed.