Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Telephone deregulation bills spark concern about reliability of rural communications in several states

The cell-phone boom has led many states to deregulate land-line phone providers, allowing them to drop the service, and similar legislation is pending in several states. Rural communities with poor cell reception could suffer price increases from the resulting lack of competition, as phone companies in deregulated states are no longer legally required to provide land-line service to all citizens.

Twenty states that have deregulated land-line service. Sherry Lichtenberg, telecommunications research and policy principal at the National Regulatory Research Institute, told The Rural Blog that deregulation legislation is also pending in eight states: Nevada, Kansas, Iowa, Mississippi, Indiana, Kentucky, New York and Rhode Island. She said a bill further deregulating telecommunications in Ohio failed last session, and bills in New Jersey and Connecticut were withdrawn.

Many of those resisting the change have expressed concern for rural customers; this trend held true in the most recent state to move forward with deregulation. On Monday, Kentucky's deregulation bill passed a committee in the Republican-controlled Senate, and is being supported with a radio advertising campaign, but "The bill faces an uphill battle in the Democratic-controlled House," reports Jack Brammer of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"The primary concern voiced by opponents Monday was that the changes would leave rural Kentuckians, particularly seniors, without reliable phone service," Don Weber reported for cable-TV news service cn|2.  Opponents said cell coverage in rural areas can be unreliable, and that the 80 percent of seniors who still use a land-line could be adversely affected.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, said his rural constituents' main telecommunications concern is lack of high-speed Internet service, and deregulation would allow telecom companies to invest more in broadband. He said the bill would ban ending landline service in rural areas with fewer than 5,000 landlines unless another company can offer a similar service.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2013/02/11/2512824/ky-senate-panel-approves-bill.html#storylink=cpy

Brammer reports, "Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, said the bill would allow carriers to stop serving areas where wireless services are available, which is not the same as a land line. Many parts of rural Kentucky have wireless service that is unreliable, he said." FitzGerald told the committee, "Even AT&T's own website says that it is not comparable to a land-line service." In an op-ed piece for The Courier-Journal he gave more details about the legalities of the measure.

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