AARP AARP States Kentucky Advocacy

Protecting Consumers - Telephone Land-lines

Testimony: House Economic Development and Natural Resources

March 7, 2013

Submitted by:
James T. Kimbrough
AARP Kentucky

RE: Testimony on Senate Bill 88 - Opposed

Good afternoon, Chairman Hall and members of the committee.  My name is Jim Kimbrough, and I am the AARP Kentucky State President. Thank you for this opportunity to express our comments on Senate Bill 88.

AARP opposes Senate Bill 88 as drafted because, if enacted, it would likely result in the loss of affordable basic phone service for Kentuckians living on low and fixed incomes and those living in rural exchanges.  It will allow phone companies to raise rates for a vital service for which there is little competition and eliminate valuable consumer protections.

For many of our 460,000 AARP members in Kentucky, telephone communication is a basic necessity, allowing older people to maintain social contact, preserve health and safety, and gain assistance in an emergency.

Why does AARP take on hot button issues like telephone deregulation? It’s simple: our mission and members demand that we take action, engage in the debate and be their voice in the statehouse. Basic landline telephone service is no luxury; it’s a lifeline for seniors and rural consumers with no frills – but it works when you need it.

AARP cannot ignore the risk of leaving rural, low-income and fixed-income Kentuckians without access to basic phone service, including 911-emergency service. AARP and its grassroots citizen advocates are in this fight for our members and Kentuckians who wants a choice in keeping their telephone land-lines.

In brief, AARP research has found that:

  • Persons age 65 and older are more likely than any other age group to have telephone service in their home;
  • AARP members age 50-plus in Kentucky maintain their landline telephone service while also subscribing to cell phone service;
  • Only 18% of those who use a cell phone have eliminated their landline telephone service;
  • Kentucky AARP members also believe it is important that the Public Service Commission continue to oversee the rates charged and the quality of service provided by landline telephone service providers.

Senate Bill 88 would eliminate the Public Service Commission’s obligation to resolve consumer complaints and eliminates carrier of last resort (COLR) obligations.  As Kentucky moves toward a competitive marketplace, AARP strongly believes that carrier of last resort policies will still be needed. Competition by itself cannot ensure broad-based access.  In fact, AARP urges the legislature to require the Public Service Commission to open a formal proceeding to determine the effects of deregulation of basic local service on Kentuckians.

KY Capitol Dome
Kentucky Capitol

Many times in these debates, the voice of the consumer can be lost. We’ve heard from one individual in Owen County who switched her land-line business phone in Owenton to a cell phone. Her cell phone coverage was so poor she wanted to go back to a land line, but AT&T reportedly told her she could not since she had converted to a cell phone. This is only one example of what is already happening in the market.

And last week, my wife and I had a family emergency and what we are talking about really came home to me. Our youngest granddaughter was playing in a soccer tournament and during a play; she said her knee went one way and her leg somewhere else.  She had significant damage to ligaments and other soft tissue. She has one, possibly more, operations ahead of her to repair her knee and leg.

Her dad sent us messages about her from the ER, both cell phone calls and text messages. But, my wife and I were in “radio-free Kentucky” Friday afternoon. We had driven to a church planning retreat at a very rural church camp and conference center in Lee and Estill Counties.

I think nearly everyone understands how useless it feels when we know something serious has, or is, happening to someone we love, and we don’t know how it’s unfolding. In the age of instant and continuous communication, to be without it can be devastating.

I have been making the case in opposition to SB 88 that there are significant swatches of Kentucky that do not have cell phone coverage, so we need the protections that have been guaranteed for decades in state law to have a reliable land-line coverage everywhere in Kentucky. The telephone’s companies argument that cell phones are better than landline phones, and landlines are old-fashioned don’t hold true when you’re on a mountaintop in Eastern Kentucky, trying to find out why your granddaughter is in an emergency room.

In closing, the 2012 General Assembly wisely rejected passage of telephone deregulation, we again urge the Committee to reject Senate Bill 88 to ensure that the citizens of this state have access to affordable and reliable basic local exchange service.

Thank you for your consideration and I’m glad to answer any questions.

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