AT&T proposal to cut phone service stalls in state Senate

jbrammer@herald-leader.comMarch 14, 2012 

FRANKFORT — A Senate bill drafted by AT&T that could limit the availability of land-line phone service in Kentucky ran into trouble Wednesday.

The Senate was scheduled to vote on Senate Bill 12 but leaders put off the vote after they learned through a reporter's tweet that House Speaker Greg Stumbo has major concerns about the bill.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the bill "has some difficulties with members over here (in the House), including myself."

Stumbo said he has problems with the bill because there are some areas of the state, including parts of his district in Eastern Kentucky, where there is no cell phone service.

"I live in an area of the state where it is difficult to communicate with certain rural parts of my county via cell," he said. "If you eliminate land lines in their entirety, you eliminate access in case of emergencies and for elderly people who don't have or are not accustomed to cell phones."

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, would further diminish regulation of AT&T and allow it to end basic phone service in less profitable parts of its service areas.

Opponents claim it would let the state's three major phone carriers — AT&T, Windstream and Cincinnati Bell — abandon rural communities where poor and elderly residents depend on basic land-line service, including operation assistance and 911.

AT&T officials changed the bill's language in an attempt to address those concerns, saying that it would affect only new customers. Basic services offered to existing customers would not change, the company has said.

However, consumer advocates take issue with that claim, saying the revised bill still allows the company to end basic services for existing customers.

Stumbo, 60, said he was one of those elderly people who still rely on land lines.

He said he has learned that customer service always doesn't get better with deregulation.

Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the Senate had planned to vote on the bill Wednesday but decided to delay the vote after Stumbo's concerns were heard.

He said Hornback will meet with Stumbo Thursday morning.

Their conversation could determine whether the Senate will vote on the bill Thursday, Stivers said. He also said he does not think the bill would affect land-line service in Stumbo's district.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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