Thursday, February 26, 2015

Phone deregulation bill now before Senate

A landline phone deregulation bill that supporters believe will lead to more investment in broadband and advance communication networks in Kentucky has cleared the House on a vote of 71-25. Rep. Lynn Bechler (R-Marion) voted in favor of the measure.

House Bill 152 sponsor Rep. Rick Rand (D-Bedford) described the legislation as a “business-friendly” bill that would encourage investment modern technology.

“It does move Kentucky forward,” said Rand of HB 152. “It moves Kentucky in the right direction in encouraging increased investment in our state’s broadband infrastructure—investment that is vital to economic development, competitiveness, and job creation.”

Rand told the House that HB 152 would end Public Service Commission landline regulation in urban areas where newer technologies are widely available, ensure voice service is available in rural areas, and allow customers in rural areas to keep basic landline service or transition to newer voice technologies.

An amendment, also sponsored by Rand, that was approved by the House would give rural customers 60 days – rather than the 30 days allowed in the original bill – to transition back to landline service from a newer technology should they desire to do so. It would also clarify which company owns which landlines, clarify that FCC rules protecting rural health-monitoring devices and related services cannot be changed by the state, and recognizes phone exchanges in place as of Jan. 1, 2015.

Several other amendments filed to the bill were defeated. The sponsor of one of those amendments, Rep. Larry Clark (D-Louisville) said HB 152 is geared toward “total deregulation of this industry.” His floor amendment, defeated by a vote of 28-59, would have guaranteed landline service for all remaining 11,000 or so landline customers left in Kentucky’s urban exchanges as long as they live in their home.

Rand said the amendment would have gutted the bill by denying Kentucky’s telecommunications companies the ability “to move from old technology to new technology.”

HB 152 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

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