Groups continue to push against basic phone deregulation bill

Members of the Rural Broadband Policy Group sent the following letter to members of the Ohio state Senate:

Dear Senator,

A harmful bill is before you this week that would cut basic telephone service to rural, low-income and elderly Kentuckians. Senate Bill 12 is the latest iteration of the “AT&T basic telephone deregulation bill,” and if approved, it threatens access to what most consider a basic lifeline, including 911-emergency service, for Kentucky’s most vulnerable citizens.

As rural Internet and broadband advocates, we know the importance of having access to all forms of communication, including basic telephone service. Communication is a fundamental human right. Lack of basic telephone service isolates people and denies them the right to communicate. Without basic telephone service, rural people will be further isolated from economic and civic participation, and disconnected from the safety provided by our nation’s vital emergency service network.

You have the power to ensure that all Kentuckians can continue to count on basic telephone service.

SB 12 would allow AT&T, Windstream, Cincinnati Bell, and other telecommunications companies to end their obligation as “carriers of last resort.” A Carrier of Last Resort is a telecommunications carrier that commits (or is required by law) to provide service to any customer that requests it in a service area, even if serving that customer would not be economically viable at prevailing rates.

Carriers of Last Resort are crucial to help people in rural, remote, and poor communities stay connected via basic telephone service. Because they are not profitable under a traditional market framework, these communities are the least desirable to corporations primarily interested in profits. The real tragedy of this bill is to further disadvantage the most vulnerable people in Kentucky by cutting their ability to communicate with their loved ones, elected officials, potential employers, medical providers and the society at large.

As rural constituents, we feel compelled to express our concern over the negative impact that SB 12 and any other bill that seeks to deregulate basic telephone service will have on rural, remote, and poor communities in Kentucky. Especially at a time when poverty rates are statistically high and jobs are scarce, Kentuckians cannot afford to lose yet another resource. We are extremely worried that SB 12 will:

  • Leave rural, low-income and fixed-income Kentuckians without access to basic phone service, including 911-emergency service.
  • Leave customers at the mercy of a utility and its affiliated companies to raise the price for basic service in an area where no other competitor exists.
  • Allow possible “redlining” of poor and remote communities where providing service is more costly or higher-maintenance.
  • Strip the Public Service Commission of its authority to protect consumers by investigating complaints regarding basic telephone service quality.
  • Carriers could decide to abandon or retire their wireline networks, not only cutting off access to the main carriers’ services but cutting off other companies’ access to these vulnerable customers.

We strongly believe that SB 12 and any bill that seeks to deregulate basic telephone service need to be stopped, and we respectfully encourage you to vote NO on this harmful legislation.

Instead of allowing corporations to walk away from the responsibility they accepted by receiving funds to become Carriers of Last Resort, we urge you to protect the most vulnerable and to stand up for the economic future of Kentucky. There is no reason that AT&T, Windstream, and Cincinnati Bell should be relieved of their obligation to provide basic, stand-alone service in a nondiscriminatory manner, and nothing about the “provider of last resort” obligation interferes with the further build out of broadband and wireless services. Additionally, consider that the places that currently struggle to get basic phone service are likely the ones with least or no access to wireless and broadband. If basic service is cut off in these places, those customers would be left without any form of communication.

Kentucky cannot afford to cut the cord on its people.

For all the concerns and reasons expressed above, members of the Rural Broadband Policy Group, respectfully urge you to protect Kentuckians and encourage you to vote NO on SB 12 and any basic telephone deregulation bill.

Sincerely, Members of the Rural Broadband Policy Group:

Appalshop                                                                                     Center for Rural Strategies

Highlander Research and Education Center            Free Press

Partnership of African American Churches                        Progressive States Network

California Center for Rural Policy                                    Center for Media Justice

Public Knowledge                                                                        Media Literacy Project

Access Humboldt

The Rural Broadband Policy Group is a growing national coalition of rural broadband advocates with two goals: 1) to articulate national broadband policies that provide opportunities for rural communities to participate fully in the nation’s democracy, economy, culture, and society, and 2) to spark and kindle collaboration among rural advocates for fast, affordable, and reliable Internet. 

For more information, please contact Edyael Casaperalta.