General Assembly Battle Over Telephone Deregulation In Connecticut

With the catchy slogan of “Don’t Hang Up On Connecticut Seniors” the AARP is leading the charge against proposed legislation that would further deregulate Connecticut’s telephone market.

AT&T maintains that all it is looking for is a level playing field against its competitors in providing home telephone service.

But AARP and consumer groups see the legislation (House Bill 6402) as an attempt to cut back on the old-fashioned analog copper wire landline service which the majority of Connecticut seniors still rely on.

“What they want to do is to give up all the responsibility of being the telephone company without giving up their benefits,” said John Erlingheuser, AARP’s advocacy director in Connecticut.

The battle rages as Connecticut consumers are cutting their landline telephone service at a rate of 10,000 a month.

Today only about one third of families have the traditional phone service and most of them are seniors. Another third rely only on cellular telephones while the remaining third use the Internet for their home phone service.

Erlingheuser said seniors still want the reliability of traditional phone service for their security and medical needs. He noted that in recent storms many seniors were able to use their landlines while most people who lost their electricity also lost their cellphone service and telephones which use the Internet.

Many seniors, he said, also need landlines for medical devices which send information to their doctors.

“As society forges ahead with new technologies, we must not abandon key consumer protections in the process.  Older residents have made it clear that while they embrace new technology, they continue to value their landline telephone for the safety, security and reliability it offers, especially for home security systems, medical devices and during power outages or other emergencies when battery back-up and network failures can prevent access to 911,” says the AARP.

Erlingheuser says his organization is particularly concerned with three elements of the proposal:

Allowing AT&T to stop providing any of its services with a 60-day notice to the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.

Limiting the state’s quality of services standards “which cover such things as responding to trouble reports and service outages.”

And a halt to annual audit of AT&T’s business in Connecticut in which the company reports on its investments in infrastructure and modernization.

The three, he said, will result in AT&T spending less on traditional phone system and more on its cellular and Internet-based systems.

“We are not challenging that you will have a phone with a dial tone,” if the legislation is adopted, Elingheuser said, “but we question how much more it will cost and how reliable it will be.”

AT&T however says AARP is just trying to “stir up controversy” and seniors have nothing to fear.

Many of the regulations that AT&T must follow are 60 years old and were intended to protect consumers when there was no competition, says John Emra, an AT&T regional vice president.

Today half of all Connecticut households get their home telephone service from their cable companies. There is real competition now, he said.

Emra says 10 of the 22 states where his firm once had monopolies on landlines have deregulated their phone markets without hurting consumers.

“We want to improve customer service and reduce costs in our business by streamlining and consolidating existing offerings into a more unified and enhanced customer experience,” Emra testified before a General Assembly committee.

“It is critical that companies have the flexibility to remove products and services on a streamlined basis as consumer demands change instead of as old regulations dictate.  While removing products and services is common for many companies in our industry and many other industries, AT&T must seek and obtain regulatory approval even though we are not even the majority provider in the marketplace,” he said.

“This sustains an unlevel playing field given that our competitors are free to discontinue their offerings based solely on business considerations.  Imagine a grocer having to seek regulatory approval every time she wanted to remove a food item from her shelves that customers were no longer buying.  Or think what would happen to a grocer’s cost if a regulatory body made her keep stocking a food item on her shelves that only a handful of people bought once a year.”

Similar proposals were killed twice before in the General Assembly. AT&T hopes that this third attempt will succeed.

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3 Comments on "General Assembly Battle Over Telephone Deregulation In Connecticut"

  1. Retired Postman | April 19, 2013 at 4:34 pm |

    AARP has lost its way. There is no way they are really concerned about telephone service. I bet they are getting money from one of those secret campaign accounts to do this. Geez. Time to dig deeper.

  2. The number of senior citizens 9and others) who rely on a landline for medical devices and back up in power outages is much more than the dismissive “a hand full”. I would ask anyone who weathered the two storms that knocked out power for days on end to picture their elderly person unable to call for help and perhaps dying alone because AT&T was allowed to discontinue this vital service. Comparing life saving telephone service to a food item someone might use once a year is a poor comparison. you can do without a specific food item in an emergency. in an emergency when you are having a heart attack, your spouse has fallen, you are freezing and need someone to come and take you to a shelter. These are the reasons landlines MUST stay in Connecticut. Cellphones went out in the weather events, the landlines did not.

  3. Senior Citizen | April 20, 2013 at 9:39 pm |

    My comments are not about cellphone service. We have a lot of companies in CT with this service.

    Those that offer landline phones like AT&T have a monopoly in Connecticut THEY HAVE NO COMPETITION in certain areas of CT. If we don’t like the service or the price we have no choice. Their cell phone service is also high.

    Comcast has landlines but they are connected to their cable.

    Comcast ups its charges every few months. I have basic cable, stations are gradually deleted when Comcast does their upgrading.

    Both these companies offer senior discounts but it is very little when you get your bill.

    Comcast monopolizes cable in Connecticut and also has a phone service connected to their cable. Cox is a cable company but you can only get Cox in certain areas. I don’t want satellite TV or internet and some building managers will not allow satellites equipment on their property.

    I get very little for basic cable and internet and my bill is high. I would like the legislators to allow more businesses to operate Statewide for us residents.

    Both these companies offer “bundle deals” if you get their service. I would like them to give me reasonable prices for the services I need and want and not offer some bundle deals that they want me to have.. AT&T and Comcast would save a lot of money on mail if they stop sending me their junk mail “bundle schemes.”
    We need more services in Connecticut offering CABLE and LANDLINE PHONES and I hope our legislators will consider this when they meet.

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