First it was street-corner phone booths and home delivery of telephone books. Now, land lines are on their way to becoming part of American telecommunications history.
As consumers continue to move to wireless , states are passing or considering laws to end the requirement that phone companies provide everyone land-line service.
Indiana and Wisconsin are the two most recent states to end the requirement, and many others — including Alabama, Kentucky and Ohio — are considering it.
Bill sponsors and phone companies including AT&T say deregulating land-line phone service will increase competition and allow carriers to invest in better technology rather than expand a dying service. Some consumer organizations fear the change will hurt affordable service, especially in rural areas.
“Wireline service is really a lifeline,” said Coralette Hannon, senior legislative representative with AARP. “The rush to pass deregulation (legislation) is concerning.” Hannon said legislation has been proposed recently in at least 15 states.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, signed a bill Feb. 22, set to take effect July 1, that removes a carrier’s obligation to provide service where at least two other companies provide voice service, whether it’s wired phone, Internet services such as Skype, or mobile access.
Last year in Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed a law removing phone companies’ obligation to provide land-line service anywhere in the state after April 2013.
On April 3, the Alabama Legislature sent a similar bill to Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, which awaits his signature. Legislation in Ohio and Kentucky is stalled in the Statehouse and Senate, respectively.
“This bill levels the playing field for traditional land-line providers in a competitive environment,” Billy Linville, spokesman for AT&T, said of the Kentucky bill. “Relief of these regulations encourages additional investment in the new technologies that customers are demanding.”
Andrew Melnykovych, public information officer for the Kentucky Public Service Commission, said the bill stalled because of concerns about the effect on rural telephone customers. He said there’s no chance the bill will pass this year.
As of last June, nearly 32% of U.S. households were wireless only, according to CTIA-The Wireless Association, up from 10.5% in 2006.