Broadband advocates oppose Ohio landline bill

Members of the Rural Broadband Policy Group sent the following letter to members of the Ohio State Legislature:

April 12, 2012
RE: RURAL GROUPS OPPOSE SENATE BILL 271, A BILL THAT DEREGULATES BASIC TELEPHONE SERVICE IN OHIO
Dear Representative,
A harmful bill is before you that would allow some telephone companies to cut basic telephone service to rural, low-income and elderly Ohioans. Senate Bill 271 (SB 271), if approved, threatens access to what most consider a basic lifeline, including 911-emergency service, for Ohio’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 denies people the right to communicate. Furthermore, basic phone service is a necessity in today’s world. 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 emergency service network.
You have the power to ensure that all Ohioans can continue to count on basic telephone service.
SB 271 would allow some phone companies, including AT&T and Cincinnati Bell, 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 is not as profitable as serving others.
The Carriers-of-Last-Resort protection is crucial to help people in rural, remote, and poor communities stay connected via affordable basic telephone service. Because these communities are not as profitable in a traditional market framework, they are the least desirable to corporations primarily interested in profits. The real tragedy of SB 271 is that it further disadvantages the most vulnerable people in Ohio by allowing telephone companies to cut 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 271 will have on rural, remote, and poor communities in Ohio. Especially at a time when poverty rates are statistically high and jobs are scarce, Ohioans cannot afford to lose yet another resource. We are extremely worried that SB 271 will:

  • Leave rural, low-income, and elderly Ohioans without access to basic phone service, including 911-emergency service.
  • Leave customers at the mercy of an unregulated and uncompetitive company to raise the price for basic service in an area where no other affordable communication option exists.
  • Force customers to buy more expensive, additional services that they may not want in order to maintain basic phone service.
  • Allow possible “redlining” of poor and remote communities where providing service is more costly or higher-maintenance.
  • Limit the Public Utility Commission of Ohio’s ability to hold telephone utilities accountable to poor service quality.
  • The legislation specifically limits the PUCO’s authority so it cannot require any telephone company to serve any particular customer or group of customers.
  • Some telephone utilities could decide to withdraw their wireline networks, not only cutting off access to their services but also potentially cutting off other companies’ access to these vulnerable customers.

We strongly believe that SB 271 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.
We urge you to protect rural, low-income, and elderly Ohioans. Providing basic, stand-alone, affordable phone service in a nondiscriminatory manner is not in conflict with the goal of building high-tech infrastructure and expanding wireless services. In fact, basic telephone service is elemental in achieving a truly robust, profitable, and innovative telecommunications future for Ohio. Consider that the communities that currently depend on Carriers of Last Resort to get basic phone service are less likely to afford access to wireless and broadband services. Ohio needs consumer protections that understand the inherent connection between all current and future technologies, and above all, prioritize the need to communicate of all Ohioans. To fulfill the promise of the digital future, 
Ohio 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 Ohioans and encourage you to vote NO on SB 271 and any basic telephone deregulation bill.
Sincerely,

Members of the Rural Broadband Policy Group
Appalshop                    
Center for Rural Strategies    
Partnership of African American Churches    
Virginia Rural Health Association
Virginia Rural Health Resource Center

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 at edyael@ruralstrategies.org 

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