A bill pending before the Kentucky Legislature would further deregulate telecommunications service, but AT&T and critics of the measure don’t agree on whether the availability of basic phone service for elderly and poor people is in jeopardy.
"This bill represents a grave threat to continued, stand-alone basic telephone service for many Kentuckians who don’t have the luxury of access to Twitter and all the things that we in urban areas take for granted," said Tom FitzGerald, director of Kentucky Resources Council, as quoted by the Lexington Herald-Leader.
However, AT&T Kentucky President Mary Pat Regan reportedly told state lawmakers that Senate Bill 12 would impact new customers but wouldn’t affect prices or end basic landline service like 911.
A Senate committee approved the bill 9 to 1, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported, sending it to the Senate floor. But the bill hit a barricade Wednesday when Senate leaders cancelled a planned vote on the measure after House Speaker Greg Stumbo revealed his opposition to the legislation, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported.
At least part of the debate appears to center on whether AT&T and other local phone companies in Kentucky including Cincinnati Bell and Windstream would be relieved of their obligation under the legislation to serve as a "provider of last resort" in a specific geographic area.
Stumbo cited a concern about poor cell-phone coverage in rural areas, and a spokesperson for the state’s Public Service Commission said the bill would allow AT&T, Cincinnati Bell and Windstream to abandon lines if a customer could use another phone company or technology, The Courier-Journal reported.
"The Public Service Commission must have the power to decide whether to let a phone company off the hook” for providing basic telephone service, and to reimpose the provider of last resort” duty where competition ceases to offer options that are functionally equivalent, competitively priced, and comparable in quality to that currently provided by the incumbent telephone company," the Kentucky Resources Council said on its website, commenting on SB 12. "Basic telephone service must continue to be available for those who need it on a stand-alone basis."
AT&T has a lot riding on the legislation. The phone giant drafted the bill and is paying 32 lobbyists to promote the measure, according to The Courier-Journal, which reported that AT&T’s Regan stormed off Wednesday after the House adjourned and declined to immediately comment on the unexpected cancellation of the planned Senate vote.