You may recall during the last regular session there was quite a lot of debate about a bill that would deregulate landline service in Kentucky and only require telephone companies to offer basic local service in areas with under 5,000 households. It was a pretty hot topic.
The companies that have been most outspoken in favor of landline deregulation are the three largest telephone communications companies in Kentucky: AT&T, Windstream, and Cincinnati Bell, with AT&T supposedly the largest, according to testimony before the legislative Economic Development and Tourism Committee in mid-July. They supported last session’s deregulation bill, Senate Bill 88 (which cleared the Senate by a 24-13 vote but didn’t clear House committee), designed to create investment in broadband while allowing customers to transition to wireless phones.
These companies’ representatives and/or supporters have said such legislation is, as I have heard it said, “key” to increasing access to high-speed Internet service—without ending landline service for those who really need it.
These three companies in particular serve millions of Kentuckians, but there are other, smaller carriers like TW Telecom, Logan Telephone Coop and over a dozen others serving mainly rural areas that don’t favor deregulation. One official from TW Telecom out of Bowling Green told the committee her company wants the Public Service Commission—the state regulator for phone utilities—to “adjudicate all carrier to carrier issues, regardless of underlying technologies.” Others said they feel what drives the telephone market is competition, not deregulation.
Regardless of their size and might, the truth is that all telephone carriers in Kentucky follow a “carrier of last resort” rule, and landline service is that last resort. Big companies or small companies can’t get out from under that rule no matter what is done at the state level because of similar federal rules, some say.
Then there are the very personal consequences of removing landline service, consequences that an official from Logan Telephone Coop said are not fully known. One consequence is health-related, as in the case of patients with pacemakers who may need an analog line for their equipment. Other services provided well by landline are 911, 411, life-alert type service, and operator assistance.
As far the PSC was concerned, director Jeff Derouen said the “big three” companies have already opted out of basic rate regulation of landline service by the PSC under a 2006 state law passed by the General Assembly. That law took effect in 2011, he said. Since then, all three companies have raised their basic rates without PSC review. Other changes are in the works, he said.
It is now up to us, your state lawmakers, to decide if we need to make further changes at the state level, without waiting to see what happens at the federal rulemaking level. We may want to wait to see what the ultimate rule maker—the Federal Communications Commission—does, or not.
I do believe we will be called on in the next regular session to consider passing legislation very similar to 2013 SB 88. I urge you to make your voices heard on this issue, and stay informed, especially those of us who live in rural areas where wireless service may, at times, be spotty at best.
Have a good week.