In a measure that illustrates precisely some of the issues the FCC is currently wrestling with, The Kentucky Senate on Thursday passed a bill aimed at spreading wireless and high-speed broadband service by allowing telecommunications companies to cut back on landline investments.
Sen. Paul Hornback said his measure seeks to encourage investments by telecommunications companies to upgrade services in underserved rural areas, where residents want wider cellphone coverage and faster Internet service.
"Technology is moving very quickly ... all over the world," Hornback said. "And if we don't keep up, we're going to be left behind."
The Senate voted 34-4 to send the measure to the House, where similar versions died the past two years.
Current Kentucky law requires "carriers of last resort" to extend landline service to every home and business in the state. The measure would give telecommunications companies the freedom to provide wireless or voice over Internet services in some areas.
The bill's supporters include AT&T, which says the measure would give it the flexibility to spread newer technology to underserved areas.
Hornback, R-Shelbyville, said the latest measure includes protections to guarantee that rural residents won't have their landline service taken away if they want to keep it. If a storm knocks out landline service, the phone company would have to restore if requested to do so by customers, he said.
"If they have it today and they want to keep it after this bill becomes law, they can keep it," he said.
Also, customers giving up their landline would have a grace period to notify their phone company that they want the landline restored if they're unhappy with their new service, Hornback said.
Under the bill, companies would have to continue providing landline services to customers with landlines in any exchange with less than 15,000 customers. The measure would give companies the flexibility to end landline services at their discretion in larger exchanges.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he wants assurances that people in rural areas won't lose landline service if they want to keep it. He mentioned a tiny community in his eastern Kentucky district as an example.
"Right now, the only link that people in that community have in case of an emergency, particularly the elderly people, are these landlines," he said.
The legislation is Senate Bill 99.