The Kentucky House passed a bill Tuesday evening that would free telephone companies of the requirement to offer basic phone service to many of Kentucky’s densely populated areas.
Since 2006, major telephone providers like AT&T have been required by the state’s Public Service Commission to offer basic service like unlimited local calling, operator assistance and 9-1-1. Now, carriers are asking to be freed of that regulation so they can invest in their wireless networks.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rick Rand, a Bedford Democrat, says deregulating AT&T will give the company more money to invest in technology in rural areas.
“Without this investment, without us moving forward these things will not happen and we will not continue to grow in Kentucky,” Rand said in a speech on the House floor.
This is the fourth consecutive year that the so-called “AT&T Bill” has been proposed, but the first time the legislation has passed the Democratic-led House.
Several proposed amendments to the bill were defeated during a floor debate.
Only one amendment passed: it clarifies part of the bill that would have allowed AT&T to not extend basic service to rural customers who moved to facilities with old Bell South land lines. Rand, who also sponsored the amendment, said the bill would now require a carrier to maintain existing land lines in rural areas, no matter what carrier installed them.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo voted against the bill.
Chris Harris, a Democrat from Forest Hills who voted against the bill, pointed out that the legislation doesn’t require AT&T to invest any money in rural areas.
“I would be more inclined to add additional regulations to require companies to provide this broadband and cell service,” he said.
In a statement, AT&T Kentucky President Hood Harris applauded the bill’s passage, which was secured with a 71-25 vote. He said the bill “protects consumers while encouraging the investment in modern technologies that is so vital to the future strength of Kentucky’s economy.”
Governor Steve Beshear also celebrated the bill passing out of the House and encouraged the Senate to pass it quickly.
An identical bill has passed out of committee and is waiting to be heard on the Senate floor. Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, has indicated he supports the legislation. A similar bill passed the led Senate last year but failed in the House.