The Richmond Register

Viewpoints

January 27, 2013

Basic, affordable phone service should not be denied in name of modernization

The world of telecommunications has been changing, but the public expectation that reliable, affordable, basic phone service will be available during this digital transition should not.

Access to phone service is not a privilege, but is a right secured under state law and a promise made under “common carriage” rules.

Under the current framework, companies thrived in a regulated environment for decades, with a guaranteed profit on their investments in the “public switched telephone network” in return for offering basic service in a nondiscriminatory manner to all customers.

In 2006, AT&T and others successfully lobbied the General Assembly to allow telephone companies to “elect” to deregulate all services other than basic telephone service. In requiring that access to basic telephone service continue to be regulated, the General Assembly recognized that stand-alone basic telephone service is, for many Kentuckians, an essential service.

AT&T may believe, as it told the FCC in 2009, that “plain-old telephone service” is a “relic of a by-gone era,” yet basic telephone service remains a lifeline for many Kentuckians to convey medical monitoring information, smoke and security alarms, and voice service.

Basic local service is more than just “voice” service – it includes, by state law, reliable unlimited local exchange calling, 911 service, directory and operator assistance, and the ability to connect with other carriers.

AT&T is circulating a proposed bill that would deregulate basic local telephone services. What would the bill do? Unless you currently live in a location with less than 5,000 housing units in the telephone exchange, you would no longer be guaranteed access to basic local exchange service as a stand-alone option.

For those smaller exchanges, AT&T could immediately cease providing stand-alone landline service if it offers an “alternative voice service,” or it could petition the state Public Service Commission to be relieved of the obligation to provide basic telephone service by meeting certain criteria regarding other providers of voice service in the area. No new houses built in the service areas of these companies in the commonwealth would have a right to a landline offering basic phone services on a stand-alone basis.

There is nothing in the draft bill that would require AT&T to seek PSC approval prior to ending the offering of stand-alone landline phone service in exchanges where it or another provider offers wireless alternative voice service. In addition, there is no requirement that AT&T demonstrate the wireless service is of comparable reliability and consistent signal quality to the current wireline service. Deregulating basic local phone service based on the mere existence of a wireless “alternative voice service” provider that can be an affiliate does not assure access for all customers to voice and other basic exchange services that are functionally equivalent, competitively priced, and comparable in signal quality, reliability, and range.

The AT&T website disclaimer for its “Wireless Home Phone device” speaks volumes: “AT&T does not represent that the Wireless Home Phone service will be equivalent to landline phone services…Wireless Home Phone may not support your fax machine, alarm services, dial-up internet service or credit card machine.”

Regarding 911 service, the AT&T disclaimer notes “911 calls are routed based on the wireless network’s automatic location technology, but you may have to provide your home address to emergency responders. AT&T recommends that you always have an alternative means of accessing 911 service from your home or business during a power or network outage.”

Before Kentucky deregulates basic phone service, the PSC must be empowered to determine whether sufficient competition in the provision of the full array of reliable basic phone services is available from other carriers on a stand-alone basis in a phone exchange, and that basic reliable service will remain available to low- and fixed-income Kentuckians and those who it is more costly to serve because of their location. Otherwise, these customers will not be adequately protected in a deregulated marketplace.

AT&T has asked the Federal Communications Commission to set a date where its obligation to maintain the wired public switched telephone network (referred to as the “legacy” network) would be eliminated. As the internet-protocol based communications network expands, the FCC will determine, on a national level, the obligations of these incumbent telephone utilities to the customers in their service areas, and the obligations to provide wholesale access to other carriers and to allow interconnection with other carriers. Ending the obligation in Kentucky to provide reliable stand-alone basic phone service under state oversight, without an assurance comparable services will be available in a deregulated marketplace for those who are most in need of and least able to afford such services, is not in the public’s interest.

Reliable basic telephone service must continue to be available for those who need it on a stand-alone basis during this time of transition.

Tom FitzGerald is Director of the Kentucky Resources Council, a nonprofit providing legal and

technical assistance on environmental, energy and utility matters.

1
Text Only
Viewpoints
  • 06.29 CrystalFarewell.jpg Starting over at Head Start

    All I ever wanted to be was a journalist. Having worked on my high school and college newspapers, I knew it was the career for me.
    I love talking to people, listening to their stories, being creative every day and experiencing new things. But as you know, news happens outside the hours of 9 to 5, and my job here at the Register rarely stayed within that time frame.

    June 29, 2014 2 Photos

  • Ike Adams They don’t make strawberries as they did back in the old days

    I’m not inclined to go through my archives at the moment, but it almost feels like the column I’m about to write has almost become an annual thing over the years.
    At least I know for sure that that this is not the first time that memories of picking strawberries there on Blair Branch on hot days in June has triggered this keyboard about this time of year.
    I grew up on a little subsistence, hillside farm deep in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, among the coalfields near the Virginia line.

    June 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Baby boomers have let technology rob their grandchildren of the joys of youth

    When I was growing up, it was not uncommon to see fathers and sons along creek banks fishing together or in the woods hunting squirrels or pitching horse shoes or even shooting marbles late in the afternoon in the cool hours before dark.
    Dads were teaching kids to play the games they grew up with. Little girls, learned from mothers,how to skip rope, play with jacks or play hopscotch.

    June 12, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg No Lincoln or Douglas in this debate

    Remember the famous slap-down in the 1988 vice presidential debate when Republican Dan Quayle compared his youth and limited government experience to those of John Kennedy’s when Kennedy ran for president?
    His Democratic opponent, Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, acidly replied: “I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

    June 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Senate campaign already in full bloom

    Any hope for a respite in the U.S. Senate campaign following Tuesday’s primary disappeared immediately.
    Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes came out swinging in victory speeches which sounded like campaign kickoffs.
    McConnell commended Matt Bevin on “a tough (primary) race” and appealed to Bevin supporters to unite behind his re-election bid. That will be hard for Bevin and those who backed him.

    May 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Waters.JPG ‘Taxpayer-eaters’ meet ‘self-serving politician-eaters’

    What some candidates could gain in this year’s election – beyond just winning office – is a stark reminder of how wrong political leaders were when declaring last year they had adequately addressed Kentucky’s public-pension crisis.
    Instead, legislators with serious courage deficiencies failed to agree on reforms beyond what they believe are “politically feasible.”

    May 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Step Out, Step up for Diabetes Association

    Six weeks ago when I wrote here announcing the 2014 Edition of Team TKO’s American Diabetes Association, Step Out Walk Team, several dozen of you readers sent generous donations to sponsor grandson Tyler Kane Ochs (TKO) and me in the walk that takes place, rain or shine, in the mud or not, at Keeneland on the morning of May 31.
    Another several dozen of you either called, emailed or dropped a card in regular mail and asked that I remind you again “after the holidays” (Easter and Mother’s Day).

    May 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Hitting the campaign trail

    The most watched race in the country ? the battle for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Mitch McConnell ? has so far produced a bevy of charges and not much substance.
    We haven’t seen that much of McConnell or his likely Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes out on the campaign trail.
    McConnell’s primary opponent Matt Bevin has been much more active and visible, but his performance hasn’t enhanced his chances.

    May 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • The case of the scary black cat

    If Margie didn’t believe that black cats were the harbinger of bad luck, she certainly believed it when a black cat brushed against her leg while she was leaning over a large trash can burning garbage one late afternoon.
    Startled by the sudden appearance of the feline, Margie opened her mouth wide and let out a blood-curdling scream that could have awakened Count Dracula himself.

    May 10, 2014

  • Ike Adams Basking in the spring sunshine

    If you had asked me, as recently as two weeks ago, to make a list of things I expected to see on the first Monday in May of 2014, two of the things that I actually did see would not have been on the list, even if you’d required that it contain at least 500 items.
    I’d have been a bit skeptical about Ralph’s purple asparagus and his gorgeous snowball bush, both of which came through most admirably. And I would have had my doubts about the poppies that have been in our back yard for several generations and the bearded German Iris that Jeanette Todd gave us more than two decades ago. It faithfully stuns us there at the corner of the front porch every spring, but there they were, basking in absolute glory as the sun set Monday afternoon.

    May 8, 2014 1 Photo