Future of landlines for AT&T consumers in legislative limbo | Local

DECATUR — A battle over the future of landline phones has dialed up in the Land of Lincoln.

Consumer rights groups in Illinois, including the Citizens Utility Board, Illinois Public Interest Research Group and AARP, are touring the state to highlight what they say is legislation that could end landline phone service from AT&T. They say that could shift the estimated 1.2 million Illinois residents who use landline services to more expensive plans.

Two bills, Senate Bill 1381 and House Bill 2691, are under consideration in the General Assembly. They would deregulate phone service and abolish a state requirement that AT&T serve traditional landline customers. The bills come as the state’s Telecommunication Act expires July 1 and comes up for review.

If the bills are passed, it would be up to the Federal Communications Commission to decide whether AT&T could stop offering landline service.

While such a step is likely years away, opponents of the plan say it hurts those who rely on landlines for regular communication.

“People who depend on this should not have it stripped away,” said Jim Chilsen, spokesman for CUB, during a stop Thursday afternoon at the Decatur-Macon County Senior Center.

Those whose landline services are through other providers would not be affected by the legislation, Chilsen said.

AT&T has said concerns about the bills are unfounded. AT&T Illinois President Paul La Schiazza has said the proposals would modernize the current law and allow the company to build a stronger network that handles services from internet streaming to 911. He said legislation would allow AT&T to invest more money into modern lines, such as fiber, internet, new copper and coaxial cable.

“Home phone service is not going away, ” La Schiazza said.

About 41 percent of U.S. households had only wireless phones in the second half of 2013, according to a report by the National Center for Health Statistics. The center, the statistical arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimated that 39.1 percent of adults and 47.1 percent of children lived in wireless-only households.

Consumer rights groups believe the plans in front of Illinois lawmakers do not go far enough to protect residents who live in rural areas where wireless service can be hit-or-miss. They also argue that landlines are comforting for residents who would not need to worry about their phone battery at a critical moment.

Those critical moments are what concerns Jonathan Thomas, director of the Macon County Emergency Telephone System Board. He said a 911 call from a landline can be traced exactly, but that’s not true of cellphones.

“At some point in the future, the technology may change where it gets to be more accurate,” Thomas said. “But I don’t think we’re at a point technology-wise where we can eliminate landlines.”

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