Friday, March 30, 2012

Legislatures ending land-line phone requirements; writer says lack of reporters leaves public in dark

"The guarantee of land-line telephone service at almost any address, a legal right many Americans may not even know they have, is quietly being legislated away in our U.S. state capitals," David Johnston of Reuters writes. He says AT&T and Verizon, the dominant phone companies in the U.S., want to end "their 99-year-old universal service obligation," claiming universal land-line service is costly and no longer justified.

Johnston says new rules the companies drafted would allow profit increases by letting them only serve the customers they want: "well-populated areas where people can afford profitable packages that combine telephone, Internet and cable television." Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin have gotten rid of universal service obligations. The Republican-controlled Kentucky Senate passed repeal legislation this session, but it died in the Democratic-controlled House. Johnston writes that state legislatures have been enduring "intense" lobbying to end universal service, but the public hasn't been made aware of it because of "dwindling ranks of statehouse reporters."

People whose service is threatened would have three options: exclusive cell phone use, Internet calling or satellite service. Johnston says cell phones wouldn't be viable in "Appalachian valleys and many rural expanses" that aren't covered by cell phone towers. Internet calling requires broadband service, which many rural residents don't have access to, and satellite service "requires a computer, costs at least $29.95 and tens of thousands of users have complained about unauthorized charges and connection problems." (Read more)

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