End landline phone service?

Michigan lawmakers in Lansing are considering a proposal to make it easier for telephone companies to end landline service.

This is not a good idea. We’re surprised this bill has gotten as far as it has.

The Senate bill would ease regulations for phone companies ending landline service after 2016.

It was approved in the House 71-39 over the objections of Upper Peninsula lawmakers State Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, and State Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet.

The state Senate is now debating the House version of the bill.

The proposal would transfer much of the state’s authority over landlines to the federal government.

The proposal would no longer require that at least two other companies offer services in an area where a third company wants to end traditional service.

A phone company would need to notify its customers, the public and the state that it is about to end service, and notify them again when it received federal approval, at least 90 days before pulling the plug.

The Michigan Public Service Commission would need to maintain a public database of land line service providers under the proposal, and investigate customer complaints of unreliable access to 911 services.

If an investigation confirms unreliable access, the Michigan Public Service Commission could require a phone company to provide some sort of emergency services, but not necessarily through traditional land lines.

Supporters argue that the number of people with landlines has fallen from 7 million to fewer than 3 million, which makes it difficult for providers to cover the cost of maintaining the copper wire network without very large price increases.

AT&T Michigan President Jim Murray supports the bill.

He said the proposal would help the company invest in more efficient wireless communications and Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP.

“It’s amazing in the last 15 years, people are voting with their feet and choosing the better technologies, more modern technology, in terms of trying to allow for those investments to happen,” adds State Rep. Aric Nesbitt, a Republican from Lawton, which is located just west of Kalamazoo. “This is what SB 636 allows us to do, and this continues to carry us into new investments in telecommunications.”

Consumers near Kalamazoo may not be affected. Being ignored in this debate are the people in rural areas such as the Upper Peninsula.

“We still have 2 million some people utilizing these lines,” McBroom said on the House floor. “All throughout the Upper Peninsula and I’m sure many of your areas, cell coverage is not really all that reliable just yet.”

Good point. Cell phone service is not northern Dickinson County’s strong suit. You’d be better off mailing for an ambulance service.

“This bill could be devastating to the countless U.P. residents who rely on landlines to communicate,” Dianda said.

Reliable wireless and broadband options are not available in every part of Michigan, and studies have shown that landline services are much more reliable regarding 9-1-1 and emergency calls, Dianda said.

“This bill does not take into account the safety of rural residents who cannot rely on cell phone reception,” Dianda said. “It does not make sense to replace a system this is tried, tested and successful with on that could leave people without access to communication.”

It is more expensive for service providers to install, replace and maintain copper wiring for landline services than it is to move to a newer technology, supporters say.

If passed, the bill would allow companies to remove already-established copper wiring connections if they petition the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) successfully, leaving many in both rural and urban areas with no possibility of traditional landline services.

Contact your lawmakers and tell them to vote no on this proposal.

Contact State Senator Tom Casperson at (517) 373-7840, or e-mail him at sentcasperson@senate.michigan.gov; State Rep. Ed McBroom at (855) 347-8108, or e-mail him at EdMcBroom@house.mi.gov; or State Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet at (888) 663-4031, or e-mail him at scottdianda@house.mi.gov.