FRANKFORT — The world is changing and nowhere is that more evident than in the arena of communications technology.
But some lawmakers and consumer advocates fear older, rural Kentuckians may be left behind if the state doesn’t continue to regulate telephone providers to require they remain “carriers of last resort.”
In each of the past two legislative sessions, AT&T has sought legislation that would deregulate its Kentucky operations, which it claims is needed to allow it to compete in the burgeoning wireless and data transmission markets. But each time, rural lawmakers, especially those in eastern Kentucky, balked because the company couldn’t guarantee basic land line services after deregulation.
Senate Bill 88, sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, passed the Senate earlier this year but then died in the House. Hornback added provisions to the 2013 bill to ease concerns about land-line services to rural areas and the elderly — but they weren’t sufficient to overcome opposition.
Lawmakers anticipate the issue will be back in 2014, and the Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development and Tourism conducted a hearing Monday on the changes in the industry.
AT&T wasn’t present, although it was invited. Committee Chair Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, said he invited the company but, “they said they weren’t prepared and asked if they could appear at a later meeting.” Hall said AT&T will make its case at a subsequent committee meeting.
But lawmakers heard from others who said Kentucky should continue regulating at least part of the telephone industry — to ensure major companies continue to allow smaller providers to connect to their networks and to ensure rural customers aren’t denied reliable land line services.
Carolyn Ridley, vice president of regulatory affairs for tw telecom, a voice data and internet provider to businesses, said Kentucky should insist the Public Service Commission continue to arbitrate disputes between carriers about interconnectivity – at least until the Federal Communications Commission completes a study of the issue.
Larger telecommunications companies contend that newer technologies for “switching” calls, connecting the caller to the calling destination, are Internet-based and shouldn’t be regulated.
But Ridley and Tom Fitzgerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, said Kentucky law already allows companies to opt out of the regulated market if they can demonstrate to the PSC that the ensuing market competition will ensure the same level of reliable, affordable service.
Fitzgerald said AT&T chose not to go that route, instead seeking new legislation.
He said wireless services can’t provide as reliable 911 services or restoration of services after disasters as land lines.
Greg Hale, general manager of Logan Telephone Cooperative, said even wireless networks depend on fiber optic networks and “wireless will never be enough” to serve all needs in all areas.
He endorsed the idea of increased reliance on wireless communications but said both “a robust wireless network plus a robust fiber network is what Kentucky needs.”
Without such a complementary system, Hale said, “residents of rural Kentucky will be left behind.”
Rep. John Will Stacy, D-West Liberty, said wireless service is at times “non-existent” in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. He said when West Liberty was hit by a major tornado, even after service was restored, wireless networks simply didn’t have the capacity to handle the extra volume of calls going out and into the area.
Hall and other lawmakers conceded the issues are complex and will require more information and understanding before they can decide how to act. Hall said they will continue to study the issue, including hearing from AT&T at future meetings.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.
- Local News
Dick’s Sporting Goods, Raising Cane’s on planners agenda
Commercial development in Richmond should see an uptick in 2014 based on proposals the city planning commission will review Thursday evening.
Second annual community holiday celebration scheduled Dec. 15
After the success of last year’s first Madison County Community Holiday Celebration, Rev. Howard Miller said he and his organizing committee are setting the stage for even more community participation.
The free concert is scheduled 3 p.m. on Dec. 15 at the EKU Center for the Arts.
Mother charged after children found in room with dead man
An Ohio woman faces felony charges after police discovered her boyfriend dead from a suspected drug overdose in the same room as her children.
RPD: Man assaults woman, hides in her attic
A woman suffered injuries to her neck after a man broke into her home Sunday, choked her, threatened her with a knife and chased her into the street, according to a Richmond police report.
He later hid in her attic, and the RPD had to summon its emergency response unit to remove him from the home.
Man charged with damaging apartment
A man who was allowed to stay at a Woods Trail apartment by a relative was charged Saturday with first-degree criminal mischief.
Richmond parade in doubt; decision expected today
Richmond city officials along with county emergency officials met Wednesday afternoon to discuss whether to cancel Friday night’s Christmas parade because of the threat of inclement weather.
Board further explores smoking policy change at parks
The Richmond Park Board again discussed changing the city parks’ smoking policy at its Tuesday board meeting.
Thefts, burglaries reported in Berea
Berea police are investigating these crimes reported from Nov. 26 through Sunday.
Select committee to begin probe of Arnold allegations
The governing arm of the Kentucky General Assembly is ready to sign a contract with an attorney chosen to advise a House Select Committee looking into allegations of sexual harassment against former lawmaker John Arnold of Sturgis.
Richmond, county fire departments decorate courthouse tree
The Richmond and Madison County Fire Departments partnered Monday morning to decorate a Christmas tree outside the county courthouse.
- More Local News Headlines
- Dick’s Sporting Goods, Raising Cane’s on planners agenda