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Government and Politics

Drop mandate to offer landline phones?
Ohio Public Radio reporter Bill Cohen covers both sides of the issue of the proposed landline bill.

Bill Cohen
In The Region:

More and more Ohioans are buying cellphones and giving up their traditional landline phones. “That's fine,” says a coalition of consumer advocates, but they insist --- a proposed new Ohio law goes too far.

It says that phone companies in some areas should no longer be required to offer the traditional landline service.  Statehouse correspondent Bill Cohen reports.

Drop mandate to offer landline phones?

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Advocates for low income Ohioans, the elderly and consumers are worrying: If phone companies don’t need to keep offering old-fashion landlines, customers can be hurt.

Under this proposal, which is past the Ohio senate and is now in the House, the current requirement that phone companies offer landlines will be dropped in areas where there are competitive alternatives like cell phone coverage.

But the critics point the possible problems, for example, they say the alternatives won’t need to be available to everyone in the area for the mandate to be dropped.

Michael Smalz of the Ohio Poverty Law Center advocates for Appalachians and he sees another dilemma.

“The bill does not require that the alternative providers provide affordable service. It could be service that’s twice as expensive or three times as expensive as basic landline phone service is now, but that would meet the competitive test.”

Ellis Jacobs is a lawyer advocate for low income residents in Dayton. He admits the trend is toward cell phones, but he adds, customers should still be allowed to fall back on landlines.

“They love their cell phones, but when they need make a call where they’re going to be stuck on hold for 10 or 20 minutes, they want to be able to do it on something they know they have unlimited access to at a low flat rate. This bill will put an end to that, effectively, in the state of Ohio.”

The state legislator, who helped push this proposal through the senate in February, is Republican Frank LaRose. He hints this bill probably wouldn’t result in phone companies dropping landlines in areas where they already have them. Instead, he figures the change will simply be in newly built housing developments where phone companies might decide to use their new freedom to not install landlines. Envision that housing development under the current mandate, LaRose says.

“About 45 percent of those households will actually choose landline phone service. Now, the rest of them are going to want high speed internet; they going to want video service, whether it’s cable or some other kind of video service. The fact is the phone companies still require to bury a phone line and connect it to every one of those houses, even though less than half of the consumers are choosing to use it. That’s wasted infrastructure dollars that could be used on getting that broadband technology out to all of those households that choose to use it.”

A coalition of phone companies and businesses is backing LaRose’s bill. They’ve also hired an economist from Case Western Reserve University to study the industry and current trends.

Jack Kleinhenz adds, if phone companies can save money by not having to install landlines they can plow the savings into the more high-tech communication methods that are pushing economic growth.

Backers of this proposed change seem to have the upper-hand. After all, they helped convince 30 state senators to vote yes on it; only three voted no. Majority republicans and minority democrats, alike, supported the plan in the senate.

We asked, critic of the bill, Michael Smalz, if this proposal is so bad, how come it got so much support in the senate?  

“The incumbent phone companies, led by AT&T, had 34 paid lobbyists working to get this bill passed.”

Smalls predicts, he and other critics will have a louder voice now that state representatives are considering the measure.

Bill Cohen at the Ohio Public Radio Statehouse Bureau


Listener Comments:

please do NOT drop requirement to offer landline service. Older people and many disabled, not to mention very small children who occasionally call 911 for help with ill caretakers,have trouble with the small buttons on cellphones. Further, landline coverage is practically always there` compared with the reception on cell phones.

Posted by: sheila bellamy (cleveland) on September 20, 2012 5:09AM
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