Kentuckians may cling to their landlines when it comes to telephones.
But they are clinging in fewer numbers as the state and the world shift to cell phones and the digital age.
And some key players, including Kentucky’s U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, a Somerset Republican, are speaking up about the pressing need to expand high-speed, Internet broadband throughout the state, an expansion the congressman has taken to calling the “Super I-Way.”
So the state legislature should give serious consideration to a bill that would allow telephone carriers to scale back investment in landlines so, the carriers claim, they can invest more money in newer technology and better wireless service statewide.
Senate Bill 99, better known as the “AT&T Bill,” for the telecommunication giant’s aggressive lobbying in past years, has passed the Senate and is now before the House, which has killed it for the past several years.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat, has been critical of past versions of the bill, believing it could cause people — especially in rural areas — to lose landline service they have depended on for decades. Corporate backers of the bill didn’t help through what consumer advocate Tom FitzGerald described as the “robo-call and astroturf” campaigns of past years.
But Hood Harris, the new president of AT&T Kentucky, said the bill has been modified to add protections to people who wish to keep landline service in rural areas. But it also would relieve AT&T and other carriers of the obligation to provide new landline service and allow them to offer wireless or Internet services in some areas.
And that, he claims, would allow AT&T to reallocate funds to invest in new and better technology while continuing to serve existing customers, commenting, “It is not our intent to hurt customers.”
Stumbo, while skeptical, allows that the bill is “getting better.”
For that reason, it deserves a hearing before the House Economic Development Committee, where it has been assigned, and, if it is approved by the committee, deserves a vote on the House floor.
The technology is complex and the details can be mind-numbing. Critics, including Mr. FitzGerald and AARP of Kentucky, worry it could hurt service for rural and elderly customers.
But SB 99 deserves a fair hearing as Kentucky seeks to evolve from Butcher Holler, in the words of Rep. Rogers, into “Silicon Holler.”
— Courier-Journal, Louisville