Senator Pulls Bill Phasing Out Basic Phone Service

Mar 15, 2012

FRANKFORT, Ky.   Fears that Kentucky's poor could lose basic landline service subsided Thursday when a lawmaker withdrew a bill that would have taken another step in telephone deregulation.

Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, said the proposal had run into stiff opposition that he attributed to a misconception that people living in remote areas of the state could have been left without reliable telephone service.

"I want people to feel comfortable," Hornback said after pulling the legislation Thursday. "I don't want to rush anything through."

Telephone companies have been pressing lawmakers for legislation that would lift a requirement that they provide basic landline service in areas where other options, like cell phones, are available. Opponents claim the legislation would be especially harmful for the poor who can afford only the low-cost basic service.

Critics feared that, if the measure passed, the state's three major telephone companies would stop serving sparsely populated areas that are least profitable for them and where cell signal is the most unreliable.

Hornback said his intention wasn't to allow phone companies to abandon landline customers.

Another sticking point was that the legislation would have removed the Kentucky Public Service Commission's authority to hold the companies accountable for being "carriers of last resort."

House Speaker Greg Stumbo voiced his opposition to the bill Wednesday, saying he didn't think it could pass the House. The Senate swiftly backed away from the measure after that.

"I told Sen. Hornback I didn't mean to kill his bill," Stumbo said Thursday. "A lot of the concerns that people have raised, particularly those us who live in rural Kentucky, need to be addressed before anything like that can move again."

Stumbo said he isn't opposed to lawmakers studying the issue after the legislative session ends, and, if warranted, to bring it back next year.

"It's going to take a lot to change my mind," Stumbo said. "But I do believe that Sen. Hornback deserves a full and fair hearing. I think the industry deserves a full and fair hearing."