KRC Supports Bill Requiring Reporting of Telephone Outages Posted: February 17, 2012
Madam Chair, Committee members, I appreciate both the opportunity to be here in support of Representative Nelson’s House Bill 209, and the Committee decision to hear testimony concerning this measure.
The “regulatory compact” between Kentuckians and the incumbent telephone carriers has serve both parties well over these many years. Customers in the geographic areas for which the incumbent telephone utilities were guaranteed a monopoly status for provision of essential basic local services, were promised access to basic telephone services, and the utilities in turn were guaranteed protection against competition and a return on capital invested in the extension and provision of universal access to fundamental communications.
Commencing with the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and accelerated by the 2006 enactment by this body, competition for certain services has become the norm. With that competition, issues regarding quality of service and protection of consumers that were formerly the province of the Public Service Commission, have come to the fore.
In 2006, this body determined that telephone utilities that “elected” to do so could become deregulated with respect to all services other than the provision of basic telephone service, and as of June 30, 2011, could become free of regulatory controls even as to the cost of basic telephone service.
As I understand, the three major telephone utilities – AT&T, Windstream, and Cincinnati Bell, elected to do so.
Under the terms of the 2006 bill, which members of this Committee who were here will recall that the Council opposed, “electing” utilities were exempted from compliance with certain statutory protections. Among those exemptions was the stripping the Public Service Commission of any jurisdiction over complaints as to performance of any service other than basic local exchange services, including complaints that the service was unreasonable, unjustly discriminatory, unsafe, or insufficient. Electing utilities were exempted also from filing reports, schedules, and other information that the commission might reasonably require to monitor the quality of service provided.
House Bill 209 is a modest and reasonable measure intended to do nothing more than to require reasonable efforts to restore telephone service when a telephone utility knows or has reason to believe that a reported telephone outage for basic or nonbasic service is caused by equipment for which the utility is responsible, and to require reporting to the commission the total number of outages, factors contributing to the outages, the number of outages that were not cleared in a timely fashion, and the reasons therefor, for any 30-day period following a month in which the utility fails to clear ninety percent of reported outages within twenty-four (24) hours.
It contains no penalties, but provides important information to the customer concerning the performance of telephone utilities in responding to outages.
In requiring as part of the 2006 bill that access to basic telephone service continue to be regulated, the General Assembly recognized that basic landline telephone service is, for many Kentuckians, an essential service. While AT&T may be of the opinion, as it stated in comments before the Federal Communications Commission, that “plain-old telephone service” a “relic of a by-gone era,” it remains the only available and affordable communication medium for many rural, low- and fixed- income Kentuckians.
I hope that each of you will bear that in mind, both when considering this reasonable pro-consumer, pro-transparency measure, and later in the session when you may be called on to consider the request to extinguish, for “electing” utilities, the long-standing obligation of incumbent telephone utilities to provide universal, nondiscriminatory access to basic landline telephone service to all Kentuckians.