AT&T Wants To Be Let Off the Hook For Kentucky Local Service Requirement
The so-called "AT&T deregulation" bill is back at the Kentucky General Assembly after failing to make it out of the House last year. It was approved by the Senate.
Among other things, the bill would strip major telephone service providers like AT&T, Windstream and Cincinnati Bell of a requirement to offer basic telephone service in markets of more than 15,000 people. The basic plans include local calls, 911 and operator service.
The companies would still be required to offer services in markets of 15,000 people or fewer.
This year the bill has 22 co-sponsors and one of the bill’s biggest opponents is no longer in leadership. Former House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, a Democrat from Louisville, had opposed the legislation in past sessions, saying it would hurt rural and poor consumers.
The Herald-Leader reported that AT&T spent $108,846 lobbying for the bill last year.
Tom FitzGerald, director of advocacy group Kentucky Resources Council, said that by not offering basic local service, AT&T is trying to force customers onto their more lucrative plans.
“The problem is [AT&T has] customers who only want the basic services and that’s not their business model,” FitzGerald said. “They don’t want to have to serve them anymore. They want to serve the folks who want the product that they can up sell.”
Instead of using phone lines, AT&T wants to transition to phone service using voice over IP (VoIP) technology. Critics like FitzGerald and the AARP lobbied against the law last year, saying that VOIP technology isn’t reliable enough yet. They say landlines are still necessary for home-security systems and some medical alerts.
In an op-ed published on their website, AT&T Kentucky President Hood Harris tried to quell fears that consumers would lose their service.
In the present version of the bill, rural users who currently have basic plans will not have their service shut off as long as they remain at the same residence. If the customer moves to a new residence, however, the carrier will only be obligated to provide service if that utility originallyinstalled the landline. In many cases, AT&T purchased those lines from BellSouth.
From the present version of HB 158, Section 1.4.b:
FitzGerald argued that, as the bill is presently worded, carriers wouldn't be required to provide basic local service.