Senator Paul Hornback of Shelby County was having his day last week as another bill of his was called up on the Senate floor, but unlike the hemp bill (detailed in previous post) this one rendered a party-line vote. The matter in question is a telecommunications deregulation bill to benefit giants AT&T, Windstream, and Cincinnati Bell.
Mary Pat Regan, president of AT&T of Kentucky, has penned in recent editorials that Hornback’s Senate Bill 88 will allow Kentucky to “modernize its telecom rules” to encourage private investment in deploying high-speed Internet to be competitive with other states. Regan wrote: “it ensures providers have the flexibility to serve customers with new and better technologies, the same technologies that will drive future jobs,” she added.
In her February 8th editorial, she rebukes notions that telecommunications companies will sever service to some customers as nonsense. “No one’s phone is going to be taken away and rural areas are not going to lose service. It is in our best interest to serve as many customers as possible,” she insists.
But, opponents are not convinced. They believe deregulating landline service and transitioning to wireless systems will leave a lot folks holding the phone, especially the poor and senior citizens. The executive director of the Kentucky Resources Council Tom FitzGerald has posed this question: “why does it make any sense for Kentuckians, who now enjoy access to basic local exchange phone service the reliability of which is assured by the Public Service Commission’s regulatory powers over AT&T, Windstream, and Cincinnati Bell, to give up that right in return for less-reliable, non-equivalent wireless service that may not provide effective 911 and home alarm support?”
The Kentucky Resources Council and AARP Kentucky are two groups most critical of Senate Bill 88. Spokesmen for both groups appeared last night on KET’s “Kentucky Tonight,” along with two proponents from AT&T and the Kentucky chapter of Citizens for a Digital Future. Watch the entire program.
The Citizens for a Digital Future-KY has a radio ad that urges lawmakers to “keep up with the times and vote in ‘yes’ on Senate Bill 88.” Listen here.
According to the Kentucky Resources Council website, the group says the measure would mean that “new customers could not demand basic stand-alone phone service (voice, 411, 911, operator assistance, interconnection with other carriers, and unlimited local dialing); the Public Service Commission would lose all regulatory power to demand that basic phone service be maintained in a reliable manner; and in areas with over 5,000 households, these companies would no longer be required to offer stand-alone basic phone service, and could cease offering it at will or require that the customer buy a “bundled” service that they may neither need nor be able to afford.”
A recent AARP poll found that 78% of Kentuckians, age 50 and over, consider Public Service Commission oversight of landline phone quality very important. In committee last week James Kimbrough, president of AARP KY testified that “for many of our 460,000 AARP members in Kentucky, telephone communication is a basic necessity, allowing older people to maintain social contact, preserve health and safety, and gain assistance in an emergency.”
On the Senate floor last Thursday when the bill was called up for a vote, Shelby County Republican, the sponsor of SB 88, Senator Paul Hornback tried to allay those fears.
Carter County lawyer Robin Webb spoke with mixed emotions toward AT&T. She praised the telecommunications giant’s charity while she condemned its greed.
Paul Hornback’s Senate Bill 88 cleared the full Senate Thursday after only a few minutes of debate on a vote of 24-13. The measure now awaits assignment to a House committee.