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Consumer Rights Groups Worry About Loss Of Land Line Phone Service


Consumer rights groups in Illinois are leading the opposition to proposals before the state legislature that they say could end traditional landline phone service. They claim that AT&T wants to shift customers to more expensive plans. But the telecommunications company says that conclusion is not accurate.

AT&T says it has wireless plans that are cheaper than traditional land lines, particularly after taking taxes and fees into account. The company also says most Illinois business and residential customers already have shifted to modern technology or have access to a fixed phone line.

The Citizens Utility Board, Illinois Public Interest Research Group, and AARP say bills under consideration in the House and Senate seek to deregulate phone service, leaving copper-based landlines behind.

“They have higher profit margins on wireless phones,” says Bryan McDaniel, Citizen Utility Board Director of Governmental Affairs.

He notes that AT&T still can make money on the older technology, which can serve 1.2 million customers while maintaining traditional service.

Reliability and peace of mind are the main reasons why St. Clair County resident Jim Pennebaker has kept his land line, even though he also is a wireless subscriber. His copper phone line also is connected to a home alarm system. That puts him at ease, in case first responders like firefighters have to be quickly notified.

“They are going to be there much quicker than when the flames are coming through the roof and then somebody's going, ‘Hey look, Pennebaker's house is on fire,'” the AARP volunteer said.

“Then you've lost all your invaluable, irreplaceable, pictures, movies, you know – heirlooms.”

Senate Bill 1381 and House Bill 2691 are making their way through the Illinois legislature as the state’s Telecommunications Act is under review and set to expire July 1.

AT&T says many of the concerns about the bills aren't valid. The company contends the proposals are part of communications law modernization, which should lead to stronger networks that handle various services. The state plans to start implementing next generation 911 in 2018.

“Home phone service is not going away, " said AT&T Illinois President Paul La Schiazza in a news release issued in February.

He insisted that modernization is making the service better, prompting many to leave the old technology behind.

Wayne Pratt is a veteran journalist who has made stops at radio stations, wire services and websites throughout North America. He comes to St. Louis Public Radio from Indianapolis, where he was assistant managing editor at Inside Indiana Business. Wayne also launched a local news operation at NPR member station WBAA in West Lafayette, Indiana, and spent time as a correspondent for a network of more than 800 stations. His career has included positions in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Toronto, Ontario and Phoenix, Arizona. Wayne grew up near Ottawa, Ontario and moved to the United States in the mid-90s on a dare. Soon after, he met his wife and has been in the U.S. ever since.