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"Providers of Last Resort" Push for an Exit Strategy

January 17, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS - Telecom companies want to change the Indiana rules for "provider of last resort," a requirement that they provide phone service to customers even when the customer is not profitable.

John Koppin, president of the Indiana Telecommunications Association, says that, under House Bill 1112, phone companies would have until June of 2013 to tell regulators they no longer want to be the "provider of last resort," as long as there's another company to step in and fill that role.

"After that, a company would be able to go in and essentially tell the commission, 'This particular area is competitive, and I don't wish to expend resources to be the provider of last resort in this location.'"

Paul Chase, associate state director for AARP Indiana, wonders if the remaining service will be reliable enough.

"There has to be another provider out there - but whether they can deliver and provide the kind of quality, dependable service that a person had before, is really I think, you know, a question."

AARP, the Citizens Action Coalition and other advocacy groups are concerned that people in rural areas or on fixed incomes might be dropped by their phone companies, putting them at risk in emergencies. They say if the only available carrier is a cell phone company, service is still spotty or nonexistent in some parts of Indiana.

Koppin says the Indiana bill is aimed at eliminating redundancy, because the FCC requires companies to be provider of last resort in certain cases.

"If they are receiving Universal Service Funds, which most of them are, they still have that provider of last resort responsibility."

He says that if Indiana regulators found there was not another company to provide service, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission would then require the company to remain the provider.

Leigh DeNoon, Public News Service - IN