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Kiss your landline goodbye?

Part 1 of 2

If AT&T and Verizon have their way, we can kiss our beloved landline phones goodbye.

For the second year in a row, AT&T has introduced legislation into Connecticut’s Committee on Energy and Technology (E&T) that will allow them to restructure their entire relationship with customers and oversight/regulatory committees to no one’s advantage but their own. And our E&T committee, which shows sure signs of having been captured by the very industries they are supposed to vett, has again passed another disgraceful bill along to the legislature.

Last year’s ignominy was Bill #442 which would have allowed AT&T to abandon their entire landline network and would have opened all state lands and preserves to cell towers with only an expedited review by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and the Connecticut Siting Council (CSC), which has final authority over such infrastructure here. Both of those regulatory agencies were appallingly in favor of that bill. After considerable pressure from environmental groups, labor unions, seniors, and others, then-House Speaker Christopher Donovan refused to bring it to a vote and #442 withered on it strange corporate vine. Hopefully our current House Speaker Brendan Sharkey will do the same with this year’s weird crop.

This year’s bill, which began as HB 6402 and is now File #428, was again voted out of E&T with an astounding 24 yeas and only 4 nays, with the same recommendation that the full legislature pass it. What are these legislators thinking? Readers in the rambling rural northwest 30th congressional district take note: Senator Clark Chapin was among the 24 yeas, revealing another smart guy not doing enough homework.

These bills are identical to ones introduced all over the country, written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an industry group that creates industry-friendly laws on any number of issues to introduce at the state level. Their telecom bills are fundamentally deregulation schemes dressed up with confusing language that makes legislators think the bills are about promoting better technology, therefore progress and jobs, jobs, jobs. The overt business threat, of course, is that Connecticut will be left behind in the economic turnaround if we don’t give them what they want. But it’s all a smokescreen.

AT&T and Verizon are robust ALEC members and wrote the legislation. By 2012, according to the Huffington Post (www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-kushnick/atts-fcc-petition-should-_b_267509...) AT&T has been able to get 23 states to remove some, if not all, telecom regulations via this route after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave them permission to do so. Many states fell for the same PR double-speak and have lived to regret it. Some now think that AT&T should be investigated for lying about key aspects in their misleading PR campaign. They say, for instance, that there are two systems: the older Public Switched Telephone Networks (PSTN) and a newer Internet Protocol or IP-enabled network and that their newer U-Verse services rely on the latter. In fact, U-Verse is a PSTN network using copper.

For a real eye-opener on their deception, see “AT&T’s FCC Petition Should be Denied: AT&T should be Investigated,” by tech writer Bruce Kushnick at www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-kushnick/dear-telecom-unions-time-_b_270729... He notes that AT&T’s U-verse is over PSTN and handles broadband, internet and VIOP as their digital voice. Clearly AT&T is not suffering with their current infrastructure, and if they are, it is of their own making.

To see the confusing bill #6402 and who voted for it at E&T, go to www.cga.ct.gov and punch in #6402 at the top. Under Text of the Bill, click the File No 428 PDF. To see comments, click on the Joint Favorable Report (ET Joint Fav. Rpt) link on the right. Favorable comments are first. Note the same mantras from various chambers of commerce, businesses and legislators about how badly we need the latest, greatest, and fastest connectivity or we will lose business to others states, none of which is true. These are straight from AT&T’s talking points.

But the most telling assessment is by Elin Katz at the Office of Consumer Counsel, who pointedly notes, “This is not a ‘modernization’ bill, but simply a ‘deregulation’ bill for ... AT&T and Verizon. This bill essentially seeks to allow them to stop providing basic landline telephone service to Connecticut residents and small business. There are not two networks (PSTN and IP-enabled), but rather they are one evolving network. The elimination of the imputation standard will put the competitive market at risk.”

Our legislators have once again fallen for a corporate pig-in-a-poke.

Part 2 to follow.

B. Blake Levitt is the communications director for The Berkshire-Litchfield Environmental Council and a medical/science journalist. She is a former New York Times contributor and author of “Electromagnetic Fields, A Consumer’s Guide to the Issues.” She lives in Warren and often writes on infrastructure.