If he hasn't already done so by the time you read this, Gov. Steve Beshear will soon sign what's known as the AT&T bill into law.
Then the company that built its network in Kentucky under monopoly protection will be free from government oversight of the quality of service it provides most of its Kentucky customers and the right to sluff off thousands who aren't very profitable.
The primary argument for this legislation was that it will liberate AT&T from outdated, expensive regulatory constraints, allowing it to invest more in modern communications technology in Kentucky.
The critical investment, though, is the one AT&T made to get this bill passed.
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By our calculation, AT&T has spent $434,131 on lobbying expenses since January 2012. Lobbying costs have only been reported for January of this year so that number will grow. A 2012 news article commented on AT&T's clout in Frankfort: "It employs 31 legislative lobbyists, including a former PSC vice chairwoman and past chairs of the state Democratic and Republican parties." For the 2013 session it had 23 lobbyists, 22 last year and 18 registered in January of this year. AT&T has also made over $60,000 in campaign contributions in state races since 2012.
Lawmakers and consumers can ask themselves whether AT&T undertook this prolonged, expensive campaign because it was driven by a desire to invest more in Kentucky or to make more money for its shareholders.
The answer was given by one legislator who observed that when it takes that many lobbyists to pass, you know it's a bad bill.
With dedicated pushback led by the indefatigable Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Council and AARP Kentucky, the original bill was improved to somewhat lessen the hardship on consumers. But what finally passed the House last week — the Senate was always an easy mark — is bad enough.
Plain old land line telephone service is very reliable and really inexpensive, while monthly bills for the array of services that come with cell phones and broadband easily hit three digits. It doesn't take an MBA to figure out why telecom companies want to switch people from one to the other. Before this bill, AT&T and other providers were required to offer the land line option to all customers.
Consumers have by choice been migrating rapidly from land line service to wireless service, which is not regulated by the Kentucky Public Service Commission. But thousands haven't switched, because they can't get reliable cell service, can't afford it, or need a land line for security and home-health systems.
Under this bill, telecoms will no longer be required to provide basic land line service to many of those people. It provides no protections for people living in urban and suburban areas. In rural areas, people who move risk losing their land lines.
Many of us remember the civics lessons of long ago that always included a chapter titled something like, "how a bill becomes law." It talked about public needs and committees and consensus and constituents. And sometimes it does work that way.
But not this time.