Basic landline telephone service in areas such as Franklin County could be history in a bill that cleared the Senate Thursday.
Senate Bill 99, passed by 34-4 vote, would allow phone service providers to discontinue landlines in areas with more than 15,000 housing units. A provision in the legislation, commonly referred to as the AT&T bill, would allow those in less populous rural regions to keep current landlines, a concern that doomed SB 99’s predecessors in the previous two sessions.
Landline phone customers in areas with fewer than 15,000 residential units could try wireless or Internet-based service, but SB 99 would allow those customers to switch back within 30 days if they’re not satisfied, said Sen. Paul Hornback, a Shelbyville Republican and sponsor of the bill.
“It protects all the people so their landlines will not be taken out,” Hornback said on the Senate floor. “That’s a big change for this year. There’s much, much more protection in here than there was last year in this bill.”
Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer praised both the bill’s potential for upgrading telecommunication infrastructure in Kentucky, thus making some areas more attractive to prospective businesses, and Hornback’s approach to ensure it stands a better chance of becoming law.
“Is this legislation perfect? No, it’s not, and I’m not sure in an industry that’s regulated at the federal level and here at the state that we can come up with legislation that is perfect,” said Palmer, D-Winchester. “But I think it is one that is of significant improvement.”
House Speaker Greg Stumbo did not speculate on the bill’s chances in his chamber, saying he had not seen the current version of SB 99.
He opposed last year’s incarnation of SB 99, which cleared the Senate by a tighter 24-13 vote but did not go before a House committee. In some remote areas, he said, cell phone coverage is nonexistent and landlines remain “the only link people in that community have in case of emergency,” particularly the elderly.
“Under current law, I don’t have to worry that somebody’ll call me and say, ‘I couldn’t contact somebody by telephone,’ and if the bill as drafted previously would have gone into effect, then the landlines would have been removed,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. “I might’ve gotten that call and I’m not wanting to get that call, so unless that fear is alleviated, I can’t support the bill.”