Advanced, broadband communication technology is essential to the commonwealth’s future.
That’s the simple message behind Senate Bill 88, the Kentucky Senate’s New Economy Communications Act, which passed the Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee this week.
SB 88 is forward-looking legislation that will stimulate investment in the newest technologies by erasing obsolete, monopoly-era regulations, while also protecting consumers and rural areas.
From distance learning to remote health monitoring to connecting with our loved ones via social media, technology has already changed the way we work, live and play. Ongoing innovations will bring even more opportunities in the future. There is broad consensus among consumer groups, business and community leaders and elected officials that Kentucky needs to be a more connected state in order to take advantage of those opportunities.
Listening to their constituents, legislators are considering a bill to allow communications companies the flexibility to serve customers with the newest and best technologies, the same technologies that will drive future jobs. Will modernizing Kentucky’s telecom rules lead to less or no telephone service? Absolutely not.
Companies which elect regulation under the bill will continue to provide reliable phone service in Kentucky. Lifeline services available to low-income consumers will continue to be available.
Short-sighted opponents argue that the telecommunications industry wants to stop serving customers. That is ridiculous. No one’s phone will be taken away and rural areas will not lose service. We want to serve as many customers as possible.
In fact, we want to provide Kentuckians with more and better advanced services. We are willing to make the necessary investments, but we need the flexibility to invest in next-generation technologies, which also will deliver telephone service. Every dollar we are forced to spend on old technology is a dollar we cannot spend on new wireless and broadband infrastructure.
Today, more than one-third of Kentucky households are wireless-only, and another third use competitive options like cable or other communication services. Even those customers with basic dial tone want more and they’re scouring the marketplace to find services to meet their needs. This bill encourages additional investment and innovation, resulting in greater competition through newer and faster technologies that customers demand.
While SB 88 includes consumer protections, competition has the greatest impact on service reliability and affordability. Consumers win if there is robust competition for their business. Currently, more than 100 companies offer communications services in Kentucky and SB 88 will encourage even more competition.
Rural areas need faster speeds and better broadband coverage in order to fully benefit from opportunities in today’s online world. By encouraging greater investment in these areas, this bill prepares Kentucky for the future while ensuring no one is left behind on the wrong side of a digital divide.
Many other states have already taken this step, positioning themselves for jobs and investment. In those states, the same worn, tired scare tactics were used by the same opponents. Their predictions have not come true and no one has lost phone service. The reality is that providers want to invest in new infrastructure, expand access to broadband and help create jobs rather than simply maintaining the status quo or clinging to the past.
Capital investment flows to where it is welcomed. Why wouldn’t Kentucky want to be in the best position possible to attract much-needed investment and jobs?
The New Economy Communications Act is a clear opportunity for lawmakers to take a determined stand in favor of future economic growth and moving our commonwealth forward in a challenging global economy.
Ms. Regan is president of AT&T Kentucky.