Sep 25, 2015

Cutting Phone Lines

Seems like old wired telephones may be going the way of the Edison light bulbs, in favor of newer technology. AT&T and others are trying to cut the cord on the old analog telephone system that has been used for generations, with a coordinated campaign to change telecommunications law, state by state.

In Illinois, the industry wants to rescind a state requirement that it maintain those copper-wire networks. In terms of just residential phone lines that use traditional telephone technology, just 1.3 million are left in Illinois today. At the same time, the number of wireless subscribers in Illinois has climbed from about 5.6 million in 2001 to about 12.8 million by the end of 2013.

Some major carriers, including AT&T, are designated in the current law as “carriers of last resort,” meaning they are obligated by law to maintain those copper analog landlines within their service areas. The companies say it is a matter of giving consumers what they want, cell phones, broadband, and other 21st-century digital options instead of keeping their capital tied up in the telecom equivalent of a horse-and-buggy system.

In 2011, Missouri eliminated its previous “carrier of last resort” obligation on carriers in St. Louis County, St. Louis, and Kansas City. In 2014, Michigan joined more than 30 other states that have passed or are considering laws that restrict state-government oversight and eliminate "carrier of last resort" mandates, effectively ending the universal-service guarantee that gives every US resident access to physical wire-line telephone service.

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