Abandon Landlines? Not So Fast, Some Say

The debate over whether to keep landlines viable is starting to reach legislatures in a handful of states.

Many carriers are beginning the transition to all-IP networks as their customers begin to rely entirely on wireless phones and IP networks for their communication needs. AT&T, for instance, has the goal of going all-IP by 2020. The FCC is discussing how best to handle the transition from a policy standpoint.

Opponents, however, say that a transition away from landlines raises too many questions about access to emergency services. Groups like the AARP have been watchdogs to make sure that America’s seniors – who might be less technologically inclined – aren’t left behind.

Under some state laws, AT&T, Windstream and others are required to maintain landlines with basic service in exchange for monopolies, but the companies are arguing that they are under increasing pressure from other wireless providers, as well as companies that provide telephone service over the Internet. AT&T and the others want to be freed of their responsibility to maintain landlines so they can focus resources on upgrading and expanding wireless networks.

But even if the companies keep their landlines, they could end basic landline service and force people to buy more expensive telephone packages in areas where certain services have not been available in the past, skeptics contend.

For example, Senate Bill 99 passed in the Kentucky House Economic Development and Tourism Committee last week and is headed to the full House for a vote, according to the Courier-Journal. SB 99 would allow phone companies to eliminate landlines and basic phone services in exchanges with over 15,000 customers, which would protect customers in rural areas. People in these smaller exchanges can keep their landlines or swap them out for wireless phones under a 30-day trial period.

However, the phone companies could deny landlines to new customers in rural areas or existing customers who went past their 30-day trial before deciding to switch back to landline service. Some opponents say the bill and others like it reduce oversight and take away the power to mediate complaints from state Public Service Commissions.

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