Have you ditched your cell phone a long time ago?
If you have reliable cell phone reception, that probably made economic sense for you. The thing is, a lot of rural Wisconsinites still don’t have decent cell phone reception, so they’ve had no choice but to keep land lines. Now the land line for rural Wisconsin people could be eliminated.
Back in 2011, the GOP-dominated state legislature passed a bill that allowed companies to stop upgrading or providing land line service whether customers had other options for phone service or not. Once again we’re seeing rural representatives tossing their constituents under the proverbial bus so they can cleave unto Scott Walker’s deregulate-at-all-costs ideology.
Once again we see that Senator Vinehout steps in to educate us all about the problem at hand and to offer a solution that serves the real needs of Wisconsin’s rural voters:
“Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, is now working in conjunction with AARP of Wisconsin to introduce a bill as early as September that would reinstate the so-called “provider of last resort” provision.
The bill would prevent companies that provide land line phone service from discontinuing that service if there are no other reliable phone providers in the area.
“If big phone companies have their way, your land line could be gone by the end of this decade,” Vinehout said this week.
Wisconsin was one of 21 states that deregulated phone companies between 2010 and April 2012, according to the National Regulatory Research Institute. The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, is a driving force behind telephone deregulation, Vinehout said.”
More at “Bill would require Wisconsin telecom companies to maintain land lines” – Cap Times – Jessica Vanegeren
And here’s what Senator Vinehout wrote on her web site:
“My cell phone doesn’t work at home, so here’s my home number,” I told the constituent. “My home phone is the best way to reach me.”
If you live in rural Buffalo, Eau Claire, Trempealeau, Pierce, or at least eight other northern or western Wisconsin counties you or your neighbors likely have poor cell coverage. A recent analysis of the coverage maps of 5 major firms shows customers in at least 12 Wisconsin counties face a lack of cell coverage.
Most of us in rural counties have adapted. We don’t expect the cell phone to work and we don’t bother calling cell numbers for rural neighbors. But what happens if you pick up the old landline and it’s dead?
That’s what residents in Fire Island, New York are now facing. And if big phone companies have their way, your landline could be gone by the end of this decade.
A recent story in the Washington Post detailed the problems local residents of Fire Island faced after Hurricane Sandy. Following the storm, residents discovered their home phone company, Verizon, refused to repair torn and waterlogged phone lines.
Customers surrounding Washington, D.C. complained of aggressive Verizon sales representatives forcing customers to abandon their copper line home phones in return for expensive newer technology. Customers who want to return to their copper line phone cannot switch back.
According to the National Regulatory Research Institute, Wisconsin was one of 21 states that deregulated phone companies between 2010 and April 2012. The study detailed similar legislation pending in another 14 states. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate “bill mill”, is a driving force behind telephone deregulation.
The predominant carrier in Wisconsin, AT&T, lobbied for the deregulation bill that passed early in 2011. One provision of the new law ended the 100-year-old agreement between customers and the utility that brought reliable phone service to every part of Wisconsin.
When the deregulation bill was debated in the Senate I authored several amendments to protect consumers including one to keep the requirement for the “provider of last resort.” This meant if no other phone company provided service for you, your local phone company couldn’t come in and pull the plug.
Unfortunately my amendment failed and the new law passed that allowed companies to quit serving areas regardless of whether or not customers have other options. This part of the new law went into effect in early May 2013.
At the time the law passed, proponents argued a federal law protected people from losing local phone service. But last November, AT&T petitioned the federal government to remove those requirements.
According to the July Washington Post article, AT&T wrote that 70% of customers in their 22-state region chose to use wireless or internet based voice services. The company claimed landline phone service was “obsolete”.
But for many of us having a landline phone is not just a convenience; it is critical for commerce, health and safety. Rural electricity can be unreliable, law enforcement is far away, internet can be dial-up and fax machines are vital to rural commerce.
Many rural businesses could not function without a landline phone. Companies rely on the phone for orders, connecting with vendors and approving credit card transactions or checking bank balances.
Our Wisconsin countryside is aging. Sometimes elderly folks need heart monitors or Lifeline services. But these services don’t work over cell phones. The industries of rural Wisconsin, agriculture and mining, top the list for dangerous occupations. The landline phone can mean the difference between life and death.
Ambulance response time may already be 20 minutes; driving somewhere to find cell coverage means more precious time lost when lives are on the line.
The health and safety of our neighbors should concern us all. This is why I teamed up with AARP Wisconsin to draft and promote legislation that would reinstate the “provider of last resort” law.
This summer I am working with advocates to bring attention to potential problems in rural Wisconsin without a landline phone and the need for this legislation.
Please spread the word. And give your neighbors a call – while you still can.
Why can’t Senator Kathleen Vinehout be our governor?