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Illinois

State Senate Approves AT&T Abandoning Copper Lines

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The Illinois Senate passed legislation Wednesday that would remove AT&T’s obligation to maintain the old technology.

That requirement dates back many decades when Illinois granted AT&T a telephone monopoly in the state’s metropolitan areas. In exchange, the company agreed to maintain the network of wires for all residences.

A hundred years ago, a predecessor company called American Telephone & Telegraph owned and operated nearly all telephone lines in the country.

Times have changed. AT&T says that 90 percent of its Illinois customers now use either cell phones or landline phones with new fiber optic cables.

AT&T says the current law that requires it to maintain the old copper-wire lines is a competitive disadvantage in the age of cell phones and the internet.

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State Senators Bill Cunningham and Iris Martinez

Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, says the legislation has wide backing. “Almost every major business association in the state and organized labor are in support,” he said.

Sen. Iris Martinez, D-Chicago voted for the legislation, but says she’s worried for seniors who still use the old lines that connect to medical alert devices.

“I just think we have to go slowly when it comes to that population,” she said, “because they depend on that land line for the medical device, because they don’t have nothing else.”

A spokesman for AT&T says the legislation would make sure affected customers receive four different notices on the change, and any customer who does not have access to an alternative can get help from the state to keep what they have.

The change would not affect most landlines. Modern landline phones use fiber optic cables.

AT&T says there’s no timetable yet for the change if the proposal becomes law.