Metro-East News

Want to keep your landline phone? Bill would let providers cut them.

AARP and Citizens Utility Board discuss landlines

Representatives from AARP and the Citizens Utility Board talk about legislation being considered by the Illinois General Assembly state legislature in Springfield, IL that would allow AT&T to end the old copper landlines for phone service. AT&T sa
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Representatives from AARP and the Citizens Utility Board talk about legislation being considered by the Illinois General Assembly state legislature in Springfield, IL that would allow AT&T to end the old copper landlines for phone service. AT&T sa

One day, 74-year-old Joyce Lakes was feeling ill. As the sickness became progressively worse, she decided she needed to call for an ambulance.

“I couldn’t find my cellphone, but my landline was right there,” said Lakes, of Glen Carbon.

This is one of the reasons Lakes keeps her landline.

“I kept my landline because it was reliable,” Lakes said. “I couldn’t lose it, and nobody could steal it and it was in my home and it was accessible.”

Situations like Lakes’ is why the Citizens Utility Board and AARP Illinois spoke Wednesday against legislation that would allow for phone companies to end traditional home phone service as well as the best local phone deals in Illinois.

CUB said in a news release the legislation is part of AT&T efforts “to push customers onto phone options that tend to be less reliable and more expensive.”

Bryan McDaniel, the director of Governmental Affairs for CUB, said a recent 911 outage for wireless AT&T lines is one reason why landlines are necessary.

“We know our traditional landline is the most reliable and secure connection to services we have,” McDaniel said.

Illinois also is working toward having an advanced 911 system by 2020.

“We think for safety and security reasons we ought to be waiting to get rid of landlines at least until we have advanced 911 around the state,” McDaniel said. “At the end of the day, health and safety are everything.”

We know our traditional landline is the most reliable and secure connection to services we have.

Bryan McDaniel director of Governmental Affairs for the Citizens Utility Board

Currently, the Illinois Telecommunications Act, which is up for renewal this year, imposes an “obligation to serve” requirement on the phone company, which gives everyone in the state the right to landline service.

AT&T Illinois President Paul La Schiazza said there would be no hard deadline for people to transfer over from the old copper lines.

“This is not something that is immediate,” La Schiazza said, who added the legislation allows AT&T certainty to plan how it uses its investment dollars.

About $1 billion per year is invested by AT&T in Illinois, but 20 to 30 percent goes toward the old voice only copper lines.

If the legislation was enacted, it would allow AT&T to invest more money into modern lines, such as fiber, VOIP, new copper and coaxial cable, and move away from the the old copper lines.

He said switches for old lines are so old, that in some cases they have to go to eBay to find replacements.

La Schiazza said 1,000 old landlines are going away and 90 percent of households served have moved to modern wired or wireless technologies.

“Consumers on their own are deciding the new technology is better for them,” La Schiazza said.

AT&T also said there are modern service options available in the state to people that are cheaper than AT&T’s old landline option.

There’s multiple options available to consumers. This is about giving customers more, not less.

Paul La Schiazza, AT&T Illinois president

He added about 80 percent of 911 calls come from cellphones.

La Schiazza said the legislation has consumer protections built in, such as the Illinois Commerce Commission being able to say whether a customer has no other alternative and still needs a traditional copper wire line.

Also, people still have options from other providers, such as Charter Spectrum for phone service that is on a wired connection.

“There’s multiple options available to consumers,” La Schiazza said. “This is about giving customers more, not less.”

Julie Vahling, the associate state director for the Advocacy and Outreach for AARP in Illinois, said landline telephone service for older people is critical in order to maintain social contact, for their health and safety and to call 911.

“We cannot allow telephone companies to eliminate consumer protections and eliminate safety nets for consumers, especially older consumers,” Vahling said.

Vahling said there are 1.2 million business and residential landlines in the state that could be cut if the legislation passes. She added people would no longer have access to low-cost phone plans.

“We are especially concerned about the lack of alternatives that can provide to consumers reliable access to voice and 911 services, especially in situations where health and safety are compromised,” Vahling said.

We are especially concerned about the lack of alternatives that can provide to consumers reliable access to voice and 911 services, especially in situations where health and safety are compromised.

Julie Vahling, AARP Illinois associate state director

Vahling said even though technology is moving in the direction of fewer landlines, AT&T doesn’t have to worry about moving everyone away from the old copper lines.

“They’re saying a certain amount of people are leaving a landline service every day. If that’s the case, the problem will take care of itself. The cost of maintaining the system will be less and less, as people leave that service. We’re open to addressing different options of trying to move these people forward,” Vahling said. “We want everybody at the table saying how we could move people forward the best way possible, without leaving people behind.”

Jim Pennebaker, of Smithton, said he holds on to his landlines because sometimes his cell phone doesn’t have a signal.

The retired 60-year-old has an alarm system for his house that requires a phone line, and he said the landline is more reliable.

“The cellphone technology, we’re not against that, we know it’s going to happen,” Pennebaker said. “It’s just not to the point yet where you could do the complete transition.”

Herb Simmons, who is the director of the St. Clair County 911 Emergency Telephone Systems Board, said he also is against the legislation.

If there is a call from a landline, the telecommunicator knows exactly where the person is calling from, Simmons said. However it is not as accurate for wireless phones yet.

“Pizza companies know your address when you call to order your pizza,” Simmons said. “We could get the food vendors to know how to get messages to us, we still haven’t gotten that far with 911.”

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter

Declining traditional landline service

Percentage of Illinois households with the “plain old telephone line service.”

  • 1996 – 99 percent
  • 1998 – 95 percent
  • 2000 – 91 percent
  • 2002 – 72 percent
  • 2004 – 66 percent
  • 2006 – 64 percent
  • 2008 – 55 percent
  • 2010 – 40 percent
  • 2012 – 40 percent
  • 2014 – 18 percent
  • 2017 – 10 percent (estimated)

Source: AT&T Illinois

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