The Richmond Register

January 20, 2013

Chicken Little’s got nothing on much needed telecom reform

By Jim Waters
Bluegrass Institute

FRANKFORT — I would have thought that current weather conditions make it too cold for Chicken Little to venture outdoors and hysterically declare the sky is falling in the commonwealth.

However, he apparently has bundled up and trekked to Frankfort for the early days of the 2013 session of the Kentucky General Assembly to declare that common-sense reforms of telecommunications laws would be comparable to the world coming to an end (apologies to the Mayans).

For years, left-wing groups like the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the misnamed Kentucky Resources Council (KRC) and others of their ilk have vehemently opposed updating telecom regulations that would encourage telecom giants like AT&T, Windstream and Cincinnati Bell to invest more into the commonwealth and make available the wonders of wireless technology to a greater number of Kentuckians.

Some of these rules date back decades – an eternity in the world of technology.

Scaremongering is the weapon of choice used by these politically motivated groups to keep, as AT&T’s Kentucky president Mary Pat Regan once wrote, “rotary-dial rules in an iPhone world.”

The two groups take different approaches but wind up reaching identical conclusions:

AARP, which used to have a solid reputation with most Americans before its foray into leftist politics, takes only four paragraphs to outline its top legislative priorities this year.

Strangely, it lists “Don’t Hang Up on Kentucky” – newspeak for opposing reform of antiquated telecom regulations – as one of its top three priorities during the 2013 legislative session. The other two: supporting Obamacare and giving nursing homes a hard time.

At least the group is consistent. It’s both strongly supporting every single aspect of a redistributionist health-care policy while also fighting business-friendly telecom reforms designed to increase Kentuckians’ opportunities in the global marketplace.

KRC sent out a seven-page “memo” filled with a bunch of lawyerly gobbledygook intended to intimidate lawmakers into thinking that the push for telecom reforms is just a complicated ploy by big companies to take advantage of small, poor states.

Despite the differing approaches, both demonstrate hypocrisy by paying lip-service to protecting poor and under-served Kentuckians, while denying reforms that would result in more access to greater opportunities for those very same people.

And both demonstrate the kind of fear mongering that has Grandma – and Grandma’s representative in Frankfort – worried that she will lose the ability to call “911” if she has “fallen and can’t get up.”

The AARP resorts to downright falsehoods, telling its members: “Deregulation of the telephone industry would mean that … Kentuckians would no longer be assured of access to reliable basic services.”

Perhaps independent-thinking AARP members in Kentucky should rethink their decision to join this politically liberal group, which is telling them to “be a voice for change” while at the same time using deceptive arguments to oppose any change in our outdated telecom laws.

Certainly Kentuckians have a right to believe what they want. But they also should have access to truthful information, and know about the costs of missed opportunities triggered by opposition to such reforms.

AT&T, for example, has decided to invest an additional $14 billion – above and beyond its previous plans – in various states this year to build new cell-phone towers and expand wireless services in inadequately covered areas.

How much of that investment lands in Kentucky depends on lawmakers’ willingness to actually look up and see that not only is the sky not falling in other states – including neighboring Indiana and Tennessee – that ridded themselves of onerous telecom regulations, but their economies actually are growing.

That’s more than can be said for our beautiful – but poorly led – commonwealth.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.freedomkentucky.org/bluegrassbeacon