COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Proposed state legislation that could allow phone companies to get out of the landline business is drawing opposition from consumer groups who say the bill would hurt older and low-income Ohioans in rural areas.
Various consumer groups held a news conference in Columbus on Monday to oppose Senate Bill 271, which was approved by the state Senate and is awaiting a hearing in the House of Representatives. The bill would let phone companies out of the current requirement to provide basic phone service for all residents.
Companies could discontinue basic landline service beginning in 2013 in areas deemed competitive by Ohio's Public Utilities Commission. An area could be deemed competitive if at least two other telecommunications services such as cellphone, cable Internet or VoIP (voice over Internet protocols) exist there.
Consumer groups said Monday that the bill would weaken consumer protection for those who rely on landlines and jeopardize municipalities' ability to get educational and emergency services to residents.
"Seniors rely on landline telephone service to keep their connection with their families, medical providers and government agencies," Mike Walters managing attorney for Pro Seniors legal hotline, said in a statement after the news conference.
Many Ohioans would no longer have the landline option, and access to affordable and reliable phone service by rural and low-income customers would be at risk, the groups said.
The bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Frank LaRose says the legislation would free companies from outdated regulations and allow them to spend their time and money on high-speed connections.
LaRose, of Fairlawn, said the companies' resources "are being wasted on vintage services customers are walking away from," the Dayton Daily News reported.
The president of Ohio Telcom Association, which represents AT&T Ohio and other telecommunication companies that support the bill, said Monday that the legislation would modernize the state's telecommunications law and "is the next logical step to making Ohio more competitive."
OTA President Charles Moses said companies currently must spend money and other resources on providing basic service where there may be no market demand for it.
Companies now must provide basic local telephone service to any resident who requests it, and companies wanting to drop landline service must apply for a waiver from the state Public Utilities Commission. They would have to show that withdrawing the service would be in the public interest and identify affected customers, said Marty Berkowitz, a spokesman for the Ohio Consumer Counsel's office, which opposes the bill in its present form.
Moses said nine states including Indiana have approved legislation similar to the Ohio proposal. A similar bill in Kentucky was withdrawn after public criticism and concerns from elderly and rural citizens, the Dayton Daily News reported.
Ann C. Bell, of the Dayton suburb of Oakwood, told the newspaper that she doesn't want to switch from her landline to a cellphone.
"It's too small; some of them are so tiny that you can't even see or push the numbers," Bell told the Dayton newspaper. "They don't think about people who have arthritis."
She also worries about the cost. Many customers choose basic landline service because it can cost as much as $20 less a month than high-speed alternatives, according to the newspaper.