telephone deregulation

Major telephone companies could scale back land line service to residents in Kentucky's 15 largest markets in the state under a bill that passed the state Senate on Monday. At least two dozen other states have already deregulated their landline telephone services, the beginning of the end for the more than 100 year old technology that's being pushed out by cell phones and high-speed internet access.

The Senate vote Monday was 30-3. The so-called AT&T deregulation bill had previously won House approval. Gov. Steve Beshear has said he would sign it into law.

A bill that would end requirements on phone companies to provide landline services in parts of Kentucky where other options are available has cleared the state Senate.

Nicknamed the AT&T bill because of the phone company's support, the legislation was largely opposed by rural lawmakers who argue that the bill would end landline service to their areas without proper alternatives.

But Sen. Paul Hornback, a Republican from Shelbyville, said the goal is to expand broadband and wireless in those rural areas before Kentucky falls behind other states in having those services available.

"It's time we changed our laws to reflect that reality," Hornback said. "Other states are moving forward. The question is, will Kentucky keep up or we'll be left behind again by other states like Indiana and Tennessee."

Kentucky Lawmakers are again considering a telephone deregulation bill that drew heavy opposition last year before it was withdrawn.

The Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee passed the bill on Monday, sending it to the full Senate for consideration.

Critics of a similar measure last year charged that Kentucky's poor could lose basic landline service if the measure passed. Proponents offered lawmakers assurances Monday that that wouldn't happen.

Sen. Paul Hornback said the measure now specifies that providers would have to ensure telephone service to everyone, including those living in exchanges with fewer than 5,000 customers.