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Hold the Phone: Ohioans Could Lose Landline Service

GRAPHIC: Map of "fully competitive" services areas in Ohio. Courtesy of the Ohio Consumer's Council.
GRAPHIC: Map of "fully competitive" services areas in Ohio. Courtesy of the Ohio Consumer's Council.
September 24, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Hold the phone! Ohio lawmakers are considering legislation that could mean the end of traditional phone service for many residents. Senate Bill 271 would allow providers to cut basic service in an area if two other telecommunication services are available, such as wireless (cell) or voice-over-Internet protocol.

The coordinator for the Rural Broadband Policy Group, Edyael Casaperalta, says cell phones are inadequate for some needs, particularly for seniors who might have difficulty using them. She also points out the issue of expense: Requiring the purchase of Internet service plus a phone could easily double a resident's phone bill.

"A land-line telephone is the only reliable, affordable option many people have for communicating with family members, with their doctors, with policymakers."

Casaperalta says consumers could lose reliable access to 911 and be forced to switch to more expensive services that could include unwanted add-ons. Under current law, local telephone service companies must provide affordable and reliable basic telephone service. Providers who want to scrap universal land lines say they are costly and outdated, but critics say too many people rely on them for reliable communication.

An estimated 1 million Ohio residents exclusively use a land-line connection, including many who live in rural areas or are senior citizens. AARP Ohio State Director Bill Sundermeyer says, besides preserving social contact, land-line phones are needed to protect seniors' health and safety. For instance, some seniors use the phone line to transmit routine health information from equipment in their home to their doctor's office, he says.

"They can make an evaluation of a person's heart and how's it working, of their lungs, etc. That information would be very difficult to transmit over a cell phone."

Just two years ago, Ohio passed a telephone deregulation bill that required setting up a committee to review the effect on consumers. Casaperalta says no new telecommunication matters should be introduced until that committee is formed and its report is complete.

"We should not even be considering another deregulation bill without first learning about what type of impact and assessing the impact of that first deregulation bill in 2010."

Senate Bill 271 has passed the Senate and is now under consideration by a House Committee. Similar legislation has been attempted but rejected in other states, including Kentucky and New Jersey.

The Rural Broadband Policy Group is part of the National Rural Assembly, which works on a wide range of issues affecting rural America.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH