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Breaking: Consumers beat back Big Telecom

20110520_CapitolGorillaCUB staffers love their smartphones and Internet phone service, but landlines still reserve a special place in our hearts. That’s because more than 2 million Illinois households rely on a landline to stay connected with friends, relatives, job opportunities, and emergency services.

So we’re happy that the Illinois Senate today unanimously passed Senate Bill 1664, which extends Illinois’ Telecom Act for two years, until June of 2015. The House passed the measure unanimously on Wednesday.

This is a big victory for CUB, AARP Illinois and the thousands of Illinois consumers who joined the battle by emailing, calling and writing their legislators to stop Big Telecom. (Thank you!) The lobby, led by AT&T and Frontier, failed in its attempt to rewrite the Telecom Act to:

  • Eliminate the “Obligation to Serve” requirement. (Illinois would have been one of the only states to allow phone companies to potentially abandon areas of its service territory.)
  • Eliminate “Safe Harbor” local calling plans, such as the Consumer’s Choice offers that CUB helped create. (These plans have potentially saved consumers some $9 million a year.)
  •  Eliminate service-quality protections for people on standard rates or the Consumer’s Choice plans. (For example, AT&T must provide customers with a bill credit for extended outages.)

These companies have more than enough resources to support their landline customers and make a healthy profit (AT&T alone raked in $3.7 billion in the first quarter). Still, we expect Big Telecom will be back to scrap consumer protections in the Land of Lincoln, and we’ll have a battle on our hands once more.

But for today, Illinois consumers get the win.