Some Ohioans Could Lose Landlines

New bill might drop home phone services in parts of state

To a Generation Y-er, a touch-tone cord phone without access to Internet might sound like something from the stone ages — a trinket only found in the antique confines of a grandparent's cobwebbed homestead.

It appears that's little more than perception, though: According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than three of every 10 American homes used only wireless telephones during the first half of 2011 — an increase of almost 2 percent since the second half of 2010. That means that aside from the 30 percent who do rely on cellphones, there's still a large hunk of the population — about 70 percent — who rely on communication through landline services.

A bill currently pending in the state House of Representatives could eliminate landline phone services across several geographic areas of Ohio, leaving those who are unable or opposed to joining the wireless phone craze in a telecommunications pickle.

The bill, Senate Bill 271, would no longer require phone companies to provide basic landline service in certain Ohio areas; similar bills have been passed in Indiana and Wisconsin. Tuesday's release of study commissioned by Technologies for Ohio's Tomorrow, which concluded that broadband investments in the state of Ohio create between 15,000 and 30,000 jobs in the state each year, has strengthened support for the bill's passage.

Phone companies support the bill because they claim it would allow them to invest the under-utilized funds supporting landline services in newer, higher-demand technologies, such as cell phones.

Opponents, including the AARP and the Ohio Consumers' Counsel, vocalize that that 70 percent marks rural, elderly and lower-income demographics who rely on landline services to make vital emergency calls.

The language of the bill mandates that phone companies would be permitted to withdraw basic landline services the area is deemed "competitive" — meaning there are other phone service providers in the area, even if their service doesn't reach everywhere — by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. To maintain landline service, some residents would be forced to upgrade to packages including expensive services they don't need, or simply lose access to landline phone service altogether.

“It is not hyperbole to argue that a devastating consequence of the deregulation of basic local exchange phone service will be higher unaffordable rates that will force those living on fixed incomes to sacrifice other necessities like food, medicine, heat and/or electricity,” said Jane Taylor, state director for AARP Ohio, in a letter written last week to the chairman of the House Public Utilities Committee, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

There's no doubt that the bill would be a positive for phone companies — the telecommunications industry is rapidly evolving, and the wireless phone industry is booming more then ever with the fierce competition among smartphone retailers. Landline phone services are facing the sort of irrelevancy among today's telecommunications services also experienced by phone books, payphones and telegraphs. But even in if an area is considered "fully competitive," the availability of strong, reliable phone service isn't necessarily ubiquitous.

It makes fiscal and technological sense that one day will bring the full transition from landline phone service to wireless phone use — but it appears that nearly 70 percent of telecommunications users aren't ready for that transition, and wireless phone providers haven't figured out a way to provide the same level of reliable, comprehensive service offered by landline phones.

If the bill is approved by the Ohio House of Representatives and then signed into law by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the new regulations would go into effect in 2013.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.