FRANKFORT — A controversial telephone-deregulation bill that opponents say could leave people in rural areas without land-line service cleared the state Senate Thursday on a 24-13 vote.
The measure now goes to the House, where two key lawmakers have said the bill is problematic.
House Tourism Development and Energy Chairman Keith Hall, D-Phelps, has said he expects his committee to get the bill and that he has "a lot of concerns about it." Both Hall and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said they want to make sure the legislation does not hurt the quality of and access to phone service in rural areas.
The sponsor of Senate Bill 88, Republican Sen. Paul Hornback of Shelbyville, said it would not mean loss of telephone service for anyone in the state. The bill is needed, Hornback said, to increase the state's access to high-speed Internet.
The Senate votes against the bill came from 11 Democrats and two Republicans. The two Republicans were Stan Humphries of Cadiz and Brandon Smith of Hazard. Democrats voting no were Ray Jones of Pikeville, Morgan McGarvey of Louisville, Gerald Neal of Louisville, R.J. Palmer of Winchester, Dennis Parrett of Elizabethtown, Dorsey Ridley of Henderson, Kathy Stein of Lexington, Johnny Turner of Drift, Robin Webb of Grayson, Denise Harper Angel of Louisville and Julian Carroll of Frankfort.
Hornback said his bill, which he withdrew last year after concerns were raised about its effect on elderly and poor people who live in areas with spotty wireless service, has new provisions that should alleviate worries of community groups.
The bill has a "carve-out" to protect rural areas with fewer than 5,000 land lines from being disconnected. Hornback said major phone carriers would not be able to remove basic service from those areas unless another provider offered a similar service.
In areas with more than 5,000 land lines, major phone carriers such as AT&T, Windstream and Cincinnati Bell no longer would have to provide basic phone services for new customers.
Webb described the changes Hornback made to the bill as "toothless" and said the measure needs more study.
State law requires phone companies to provide basic land-line service as the "carriers of last resort" for households throughout their territories. It also requires the Kentucky Public Service Commission to investigate and resolve consumer complaints.
Patrick Turner, an AT&T attorney from South Carolina, said earlier this week that the company was planning to spend $14 billion across the nation to upgrade its Internet service.
AT&T would not want to leave its land-line customers because the company wants to increase its Internet service to them, he said.