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A Battle To Keep Rural Hoosiers Connected

January 27, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS - Bills allowing telephone companies to stop providing service in areas which are not profitable are moving through both houses of the Legislature, but some lawmakers from both parties worry that residents of rural Indiana will be left with less-than-adequate service and at risk in emergency situations.

Many folks in rural Indiana - about a third of the state's population - still struggle with inadequate phone, television and Internet services. House Bill 1112 and Senate Bill 308 would allow companies to stop serving unprofitable areas if some other carrier exists.

Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, says the state needs to give rural areas a fighting chance since telecom companies don't find rural Indiana lucrative.

"They get the biggest bang for their investment in areas that have dense populations, because if you can run a mile of infrastructure and have thousands of potential customers, that's going to be a better rate of return than a rural area where you may only have 100 potential customers, or maybe even less."

Pierce wants to put the brakes on the so-called "Provider of Last Resort" legislation, and study the impact of not only what's happening in Indiana but with possible federal regulatory changes

Vicki Beeson, owner of Senior Helpers in Greenfield, a home health agency, says many of the home-bound residents she cares for have personal emergency-response buttons tied to their landline phone service - and most of those systems don't work with cell phones.

"If a senior would have service through a company that requires a landline, and they can't have the quality of service that they've had in the past, then that puts their safety in jeopardy."

Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, says that if some of his constituents lost their landline provider, they couldn't just turn to cell phones.

"There's some areas in my part of the state, too, down in rural areas where this new technology they just can't beam into them. And so, all they have is that standard telephone system."

Tomes encourages people concerned about losing their landline phone service in rural areas to speak up about the legislation.

Texts of HB 1112 and SB 308 are online.

Leigh DeNoon, Public News Service - IN