Talking points on rewriting Illinois' Telecommunications Act
Looks like the phone lobbyists are back in town.
April 16, 2010 Illinois' phone companies are pushing for a rewrite of the state’s Telecommunications Act to loosen regulations requiring them to maintain landline service.

The Illinois Senate and House passed the bill, which now awaits the governor's signature.

House Bill 6425/Senate Bill 107 would rewrite the state’s telecommunications law and eliminate key consumer protections, opening the door to potentially poor service and possible rate hikes. While a growing number of consumers are ditching landlines for cell phones and digital phone service (VoIP), 78 percent of homes in Illinois still maintain a landline telephone. Those landlines provide a reliable link to 911 emergency services, even if the power goes out for an extended period of time.

Since the last update to Illinois’ telecommunications law, in 2001, service quality-standards have helped prevent the kind of service meltdown that sparked a flood of complaints to CUB and state regulators from consumers who suffered through horrible service delays of up to three months in the late 90s.

An Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) order also requires AT&T to offer high-speed Internet access to at least 90 percent of homes outside of the Chicago metropolitan area. AT&T has actually appealed the order to the state Appellate Court. This bill would eliminate that requirement. See what The Moline Dispatch and Rock Island Argus said about that provision.

There has been one victory in the fight to improve this bill. An older version of HB 6425/SB 107 allowed AT&T to kill its “safe-harbor” Consumer’s Choice packages in just three years. CUB and other consumer advocates fought against the measure because the calling plans are a key mechanism to prevent rate increases and protect consumers. The bill unfairly singled out the Consumer’s Choice plans, imposing this three-year deadline without any guarantee that the telephone market would actually develop enough to produce affordable alternatives by 2013. That proposal in the bill has now been taken out.

What CUB Says
HB 6425/SB 107, as written now, would eliminate crucial consumer protections that ensure reliable, affordable phone service for Illinois families and older residents. CUB is urging consumers to tell their state representative, state senator, and the governor to reject HB 6425/SB 107.

Take Action
CUB has made it easy for you to tell your state legislators and the governor that HB 6425/SB 107, as written, doesn’t adequately protect Illinois consumers from limitless rate hikes and poor quality service. With the push of a button, you can send them an e-mail voicing your concerns.

Help CUB fight for you in Springfield by contributing to CUB's consumer-defense fund.

Talking Points
-More than 3 out of 4 Illinois consumers rely on a landline telephone as an affordable, reliable link to 911 emergency services and the rest of the world. Eliminating service-quality standards, which have protected consumers for almost a decade, would leave callers at the mercy of the phone company, potentially exposing them to poor service.

-The bill would junk state oversight of AT&T, a company which raked in $12.5 billion last year, subjecting customers to possible rate hikes.

-Despite state regulators concluding that many areas of Illinois are “grossly underserved” when it comes to high-speed Internet, HB 6425/SB 107 would allow AT&T to get out of a state order that 90 percent of homes outside Chicago have access to broadband. Reducing investment in broadband could make Illinois less competitive.

-AT&T is pushing HB 6425/SB 107 as a “jobs bbill,” even though the bill doesn’t contain a jobs component. Service-quality standards actually help create jobs. Eliminating such standards will decrease investment and hurt Illinois.