As House Speaker Greg Stumbo noted during the end of the 2014 session, legislation known as the AT&T bill needed work in order to protect Kentucky's consumers.
This year's Senate Bill 3 and House Bill 152 are essentially the same bills House leadership declined to pass last year.
In 2006, while allowing AT&T, Windstream and Cincinnati Bell to deregulate other phone services, the General Assembly wisely decided that basic local phone service — 911, 411, unlimited local calling and operator assistance — should remain available on a stand-alone basis.
Providers are obligated to provide that service, with its reliability and repair regulated by the Public Service Commission.
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Eight years later, AT&T wants to end that obligation for phone exchanges with over 15,000 households — including Bowling Green, Corbin, Georgetown, Henderson, Hopkinsville, Frankfort, Louisville, Owensboro, Paducah, Richmond, Boone County, Independence, Elizabethtown, Lexington, Nicholasville and London.
New and existing customers could be required to purchase more expensive bundled service. The reliability of the phone services, including repair after outages, would no longer be under the authority of the PSC.
In all, more than 11,000 households could lose access to stand-alone, reliable, land-line service.
For AT&T customers outside of those communities, if they move or relocate a business, and there isn't currently a land line installed by the current utility, the legislation would allow companies to offer wireless home phone service instead.
And if you take wireless service and don't switch back in 30 days, you lose the right to land-line basic service.
But isn't wireless home phone service just as good as a land line?
According to AT&T's own disclaimers, apparently not. Here's what the AT&T website says: "AT&T Wireless Home Phone is not compatible with home security systems, fax machines, medical alert and monitoring services, credit card machines, IP/PBX Phone systems, or dial-up Internet service."
And from its customer agreement: "We do not guarantee you uninterrupted service or coverage. We cannot assure that if you place a 911 call you will be found."
And because wireless services have limited battery backup power, they are not as reliable during power outages caused by storms and other natural disasters. After Hurricane Sandy, New York and New Jersey residents scrambled to find pay phone booths because only they still carried a dial tone.
The transition to digital Internet-Protocol based communications brings opportunities, but it brings risks as well — as the Federal Communications Commission chair noted last year when he questioned whether "the transitions to the next generation networks benefit all Americans or will we allow some to fall through the cracks?"
In November, the FCC proposed new rules intended to assure that new services meet the needs of consumers before carriers are allowed to remove legacy services, and to provide greater transparency and consumer protection.
Kentucky lawmakers should wait until these rules are finalized before letting AT&T, Windstream and Cincinnati Bell off the hook.