Land-Line Deregulation Debate Continues

Feb 19, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Heated debate continues over a bill that would deregulate land-line phone service in Kentucky. Supporters and opponents of the legislation appeared on KET’s Kentucky Tonight Monday.

Opponents of Senate Bill 88, such as Tom Fitzgerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, say passage of the bill would put rural Kentuckians at a disadvantage.

"It's a question of whether the incumbent utilities will retain an obligation as so-called 'carriers of last resort' to provide the basic stand alone service," he says.

That’s despite new provisions the bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator Paul Hornback, says would “carve out” areas with fewer than 5,000 land lines, where major phone carriers would not be able to disconnect basic service unless another provider offered a similar service.

Patrick Turner, an attorney for AT&T, says asking phone companies to accommodate outdated regulations will only slow investment in new technology.

"They still have... rotary dial provisions in a smartphone world, and what's happening is those provisions are deflecting investment in jobs and consumer choices into neighboring states who have already modernized their law," Turner says.

Opponents argue there’s nothing preventing AT&T from making those investments now, but Barker contends current law amounts to a de facto regulation. He says companies must either "subject all this new growth industry that is... bringing what customers want today... to rotary dial regulation that's suffocated the life out of every service it's touched or maintain two networks."

SB 88 passed the state Senate last week. Now the battle over deregulation moves to the House, where it is expected to face stronger opposition.