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Will Illinois Cut Cord on Landline Phone Service?

PHOTO: The Illinois Telecommunications Act is up for review this year, and consumer groups are concerned big telecommunication companies will push for the elimination of low-cost home phone service. Photo credit: Jane M. Sawyer/Morguefile.
PHOTO: The Illinois Telecommunications Act is up for review this year, and consumer groups are concerned big telecommunication companies will push for the elimination of low-cost home phone service. Photo credit: Jane M. Sawyer/Morguefile.
February 18, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Illinois consumer groups say they are worried that state lawmakers will allow the cord to be cut on home phone service. The Illinois Telecommunications Act will expire this year.

Jim Chilsen, consumer director of communications for the Citizens Utility Board, said the review will open the door for AT&T and other large telecommunications companies to push customers onto phone options that are more expensive and less reliable than landline service.

"For millions of consumers and small businesses, this is still the most reliable, affordable choice," he said. "A smart phone is a great device, but it's not affordable for everyone. And anybody who's taken a trip across the state can tell you that it's not always reliable."

If lawmakers scrap the obligation to serve requirement in the act, Chilsen said, companies could abandon areas they deem unprofitable, leaving some rural areas without home phone service. He said there are also concerns that consumers' choice plans, which range from about $3 to $20 a month, no longer will be mandated. According to the Federal Communications Commission, nearly 40 percent of U.S. households now have no landline phone service.

AT&T officials have said the company wants to deliver more of the modern communications services that consumers are demanding, such as wireless phones and high-speed Internet calling. But Chilsen argued that there are health and safety reasons the landline option be preserved.

For "people who have pacemakers and who need to report to a doctor's office, often a landline is the most reliable way," he said. "Often, consumers are concerned about 911 service. The most reliable 911 option is a landline because it doesn't go out in a power outage."

In a survey conducted last year on behalf of AARP, nearly half of respondents said they use traditional phone service nearly always or most of the time. The percentages were higher for Illinoisans ages 65 and older. The survey is online at aarp.org.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL