Kathleen Vinehout Discusses Rural Landline Availability Bill

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Kathleen Vinehout Discusses Rural Landline Availability Bill

Premiere Date: 
August 30, 2013

Sen. Kathleen Vinehout discusses a bill that requires landline availability throughout WI.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

But first, who doesn't use a cell phone these days? You don't if you can't get service in the hills or hinter-lands. One state lawmaker says the state hung up on people whose only phone is a land line in 2011. That’s when the legislature let phone companies off the hook for continuing to maintain old-fashioned land lines. Alma Democrat senator, Kathleen Vinehout, working with the state AARP, will soon dial up a new bill that she says will remedy that, a plan that will reinstate the so-called Provider of Last Resort provision. Senator Vinehout joins us now. Thanks very much for doing so.

Kathleen Vinehout:

My Pleasure.

Frederica Freyberg:

How exactly could it happen that someone could be left without land line service even if there is no cell service in the area?

Kathleen Vinehout:

We have an example that happened this summer, which was the instigation for this bill at this time. I happened to be on the East Coast visiting some relatives and read an article in the Washington Post about people in Fire Island, New York who were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. Part of the copper wire was torn up and waterlogged and unusable, and rather than repair it, the company decided to not replace it. This is a big problem if there is an area with no cell coverage or no other alternative form of communication. That happens to be the district that I represent in western Wisconsin where the beautiful hills that the glaciers didn't touch has left cell coverage lacking in many areas.

Frederica Freyberg:

On that Fire Island example, that's one thing. We reached out to the Wisconsin Telecommunications Association and they say this about your bill. They say, “These legislative changes are not needed in Wisconsin. Our member companies will continue to provide 100% service to their land line customers regardless of any requirements at the state level, including Senator Vinehout's district.” What is your response to that?

Kathleen Vinehout:

My response is that the telecommunications organizations, the co-ops, have carved up western Wisconsin so that looks like a quilt made with very, very small pieces of fabric. And there are some areas that are very well served both with broadband and of course with land lines. But there are other areas where, for whatever reason, the company, and  it's usually not a cooperative, has simply refused to build out broadband. And those are areas that I think are most vulnerable to the large companies that simply don't want the cost of maintaining these copper lines. And I would site as some evidence for this, the lack of maintenance of these lines. So right now with the 2011 Telecommunications Bill having gone into effect, no longer is their rate regulation and no longer is their service quality. And this was part of the service quality that was revoked. So sometimes when I pick up my phone I get a very crackly sound and a very poor connection. This is an example of poor service quality.

Frederica Freyberg:

Doesn't the federal government's FCC have something to say about deregulation as we passed in Wisconsin?

Kathleen Vinehout:

Yes, that's what troubled me about what I read this summer. Right now before the FCC is a petition to remove the federal requirement for the Provider of Last Resort. In 2011 when legislators were asked to support this bill by the large telecommunications companies, they were told don't worry, the federal government has everything under control. We would never remove this requirement at the federal level. Ah, but that's not what's happened. What's happened is that there is a lot of pressure at the federal level to remove this requirement, and it is already happening in places despite the fact that the federal requirement remains. So that's why I feel like this bill is very necessary, especially when we look 10 years into the future and see this is part of the business plan of many of the telecommunications companies.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, if the deregulation bill was passed and your amendment as part of that failed. You had an amendment that the plug not be pulled on the land lines. Why should your new bill to reinstate the so-called Provider of Last Resort prevail now?

Kathleen Vinehout:

I think there are a couple of reasons. First of all, despite pressure from many sides, I drafted the bill very narrowly. There are many issues that people are concerned about, rate regulation and service quality being the big categories. This bill only addresses the Provider of Last Resort. If the telephone co-ops in western Wisconsin say, don't worry, we're going to do it anyway. Then I say, fine, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. This is only putting in law what you're already saying you're going to do. But I know from the telecommunications, their long-term plans, that the big companies are not there. They want to remove the copper lines over the next 10 years, and they are starting on the East Coast.

Frederica Freyberg:

We have less than a minute left. I want to ask you where you are on running for governor?

Kathleen Vinehout:

I'm seriously considering it, and I will make my decision in January.

Frederica Freyberg:

What about the field as it exists right now? What about any competition from Mary Burke, for example?

Kathleen Vinehout:

Right now there is no heir apparent in the Democratic party. So I think there are a lot of Democrats that want to participate in the process of sorting out who that candidate is going to be.

Frederica Freyberg:

Alright, there’s an answer. Kathleen Vinehout, thanks very much.

Kathleen Vinehout:

My pleasure. 


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