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 email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.
- Local News
Cattle farmers enjoying ‛perfect storm’
Demand is up, and cattle are selling for record prices.
At the same time, corn prices are down and fuel prices have stabilized.
That adds up to a “perfect storm” for Kentucky cattle farmers, said Gary Kelly of Paint Lick as he ate lunch Friday with his brother Jimmy at the restaurant across from the Blue Grass Stockyards.
Fire training tower going up
A new training tower for the Richmond Fire Department is rising on Four Mile Road.
Construction began Thursday on the four-story, steel-framed structure.
Pavement work to restrict I-75 in Rockcastle County
Beginning Sunday until about the end of November, Interstate 75 in Rockcastle County will be reduced to one lane in each direction between mile points 58 and 66 for pavement work.
Jailed woman charged with heroin trafficking
A Richmond woman already jailed on another charge was served with a drug trafficking warrant Thursday.
County’s jobless rate improves
Madison County’s unemployment rate for June, 6.5 percent, was a full percentage point lower than a year earlier and 0.2 points lower than in May.
Young inventors turn trash to treasure
The first day of Camp Invention began with a room full of objects ready to be recycled, Sarah Shaffer, director of the camp said Thursday.
Four arrested on meth charges at Berea motel
Berea Police arrested four people Wednesday at the Knights Inn on Chestnut Street, including a man they said tried to conceal a meth lab on his person.
Fridays, Saturdays added to depot’s detonation calendar
The Blue Grass Army Depot is adjusting its weekly schedule for detonating obsolete and unserviceable conventional explosives because of a higher-than-normal number of delays this season.
County, cities asked to ban indoor smoking
The Madison County Health Board voted 9-1 Wednesday to ask the county’s three local governing bodies to ban smoking in indoor public places.
4-H exhibits are family affair for the Houstons
Five children from the same family were the first to bring their 4-H exhibits Wednesday to the Madison County Fairgrounds.
- More Local News Headlines
- Cattle farmers enjoying ‛perfect storm’