Senate Bill 636, which would allow phone companies to eliminate landline telephone service with only 90 days’ notice starting in 2017, is a threat to the lives and safety of Michigan residents, according to the law enforcement community and AARP Michigan.
During a joint news conference today, the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association and AARP urged House members to vote “no” on SB 636 or at least delay passage until amendments can be made that would ensure public safety.
“The ability of our citizens to have a sure, reliable, affordable, and available means to contact us in an emergency is absolutely necessary and can make the difference in life or death. SB 636 will remove that availability.” said Robert Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. “The Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police strongly urges the House Representatives to put the public’s safety first and not pass SB 636.”
Terry Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, specifically questioned language in the bill that says phone service must be “comparable.”
“I have seen nothing in the data that convinces me that ‘comparable voice service’ is a standard we want to use when lives are at stake,” Jungel said. “What is considered ‘comparable,’ and by whom?”
Eric Schneidewind, former chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission and a member of the AARP National Board, said SB 636 puts seniors and families at risk.
“AARP is fighting to ensure that its members and all Michigan families have reliable, affordable phone service they can count on, especially during extreme weather or other emergencies,” Schneidewind said. “This legislation puts reliable phone service at risk for all Michigan consumers.”
Schneidewind added that when a phone service provider wants to drop landline service, the Public Service Commission should be able to take the initiative to determine if there is a comparable alternative service available. The bill says the consumer must go to the PSC to initiate such an investigation.
“That ties the PSC’s hands, and to place that burden on the consumer is unfair,” he said.
Telephone service is a basic necessity, particularly for older adults, who are more likely than any other age group to rely on their landlines not only for social contact, but to preserve health and safety. In a recent unscientific opinion poll of 1300 AARP members and others, 85% of respondents told us they currently have a landline service, and 97% are opposed to SB 636.
AARP is concerned that residents who use a landline for medical monitoring of a pacemaker, implantable cardiac defibrillator, and medical alert or other life-saving device could be at risk. Many families also have a home security system that relies on landline service.
The legislation won passage in the Senate last week and could be taken up in the House as soon as Tuesday. The House Energy & Technology Committee will consider the bill at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.