AT&T's Potential End of POTS Draws Anger, Concern

By Craig Galbraith Comments
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Unless you live under a rock, you know that telecommunications is changing faster than just about any field of technology out there. But will those changes leave some Americans behind?

AT&T has proposed a bill to the Kentucky state legislature that would deregulate basic telephone services in areas served not only by Ma Bell, but also by Cincinnati Bell and Windstream in the Bluegrass State. It threatens to take away the right to basic local phone service for those customers whose landline is part of a smaller exchange, something that has the director of the Kentucky Resources Council – a nonprofit specializing in environmental, energy and utility matters – concerned.

"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 to the currently regulated landline basic telephone services," wrote the KRC's Tom FitzGerald in a column for Kentucky.com.

"The public expectation that reliable, affordable, basic phone service will be available during [the] digital transition, should not," FitzGerald said.

State law in Kentucky (and in many other states) says having basic local exchange phone service is a right, not a privilege. Of course, with the telecommunications landscape changing to a wireless-first mentality, many phone companies are looking for a more deregulated environment that would loosen the requirements to offer landlines to everyone, particularly in areas where wireless service is strong.

"AT&T may believe, as it told the Federal Communications Commission in 2009, that 'plain-old telephone service' is a 'relic of a bygone era,' FitzGerald wrote, "yet basic reliable wireline local exchange telephone service remains a lifeline for those who use it to convey medical monitoring information, for smoke and security alarms, and for voice service."

FitzGerald says the potential of eliminating the requirement of basic local exchange service, without a guarantee that comparable services will be available, is not in the public's interest.

Follow senior online managing editor @Craig_Galbraith on Twitter.

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