WHITESBURG — Senate Bill 99, the “AT&T Bill,” is a great deal for the telecommunications giants AT&T, Windstream and Cincinnati Bell.
It would allow them to abandon their least profitable customers and service areas as well as public protection obligations. But it is a risky and potentially dangerous bet for Kentuckians. Kentucky House members should turn it down.
Everyone agrees that access to affordable high-speed Internet is a good thing for Kentucky. However, despite what AT&T officials and their numerous lobbyists say, SB 99 does nothing to require or guarantee increased broadband investment, especially in areas of most need.
When AT&T Kentucky President Hood Harris wrote in the Lexington Herald-Leader that Kentucky’s outdated laws force the company to invest in outdated technology instead of broadband, he failed to mention that AT&T turned down federal funds to build out broadband in unserved areas – they don’t want the “obligations” they would have to meet.
Most Kentuckians would also agree that a phone call is a phone call whether made from a regular phone line or a wireless phone or over the Internet.
And we want our phone service to reflect the communications principles that have long been part of U.S. law. Those principles enabled the growth of the greatest communications system in the world.
It is a system that guarantees affordable service to anyone no matter where they live. It promotes and encourages competition ensuring that a call from one telecommunications company can be received by an individual using another service. And it provides public safety through 911 connection and other emergency services.
The Federal Communications Commission is beginning trials to gather information on how these fundamental communications values can be maintained as we switch to new technologies. AT&T officials are on record saying this is the best place to have this IP transition discussion.
But if the Kentucky General Assembly passes SB 99, AT&T, Windstream and Cincinnati Bell will be released from their current requirements to provide universal service and public protection before the FCC looks at innovative ways forward.
In other states that have let the telecommunication corporations deregulate, prices for phone service have skyrocketed. And AT&T and other large providers have pushed bills to eliminate competition from municipalities, non-profits and innovators like Google Fiber.
How is this good for Kentucky? There is no good reason for the General Assembly to rush thorough the AT&T-backed legislation and surrender the rights and protections guaranteed to us under our long-standing communications laws.
SB 99 is bad news and big trouble for all of us, unless of course you are one of these telecommunication giants.
Mimi Pickering of Whitesburg is a member of the Rural Broadband Policy Group of the National Rural Assembly.