Bill Would Phase Out Traditional Land Lines

By: Brian Johnson Email
By: Brian Johnson Email

Janet Hamel is a hockey mom on a mission.

"I love my land line," said Hamel.

She has a cell phone and a land line, and she wants to keep it that way because her cell phone doesn't always work.

"Depending on where I am in the house, I will drop calls," she explained.

She also values being ready for an emergency.

"For example on 9-11, or the Oklahoma City bombing, all the cell towers were locked and you couldn't get ahold of people," said Hamel.

A bill moving through the legislature would, starting January 1, 2017, allow utility companies to stop servicing traditional land lines. Customers would be given 90 days notice, and then their service could end.

In 2001, there were 6.8 million traditional land lines in the state, compared to 2.6 million in 2012.

However, the folks at AT&T say they don't want to get ride of your phone, they want to offer more services, using the same hardware--just in a different way.

"It takes that same wire a that's been connected to your house, in some cases for generations, and turns it into a product that takes your voice in and out of your house over the internet as opposed to over electricity," said Matt Resch, a spokesperson for AT&T in Michigan.

Some of those packages cost more, but they also provide more services.

Representative Schor says many land line users, don't realize they don't actually have a traditional land line.

"Many people have the VoIP, like Comcast Triple Play, the AT&T U-verse, a lot of these packages have Voice over Internet Protocol-- Magic Jack or whatever else people use," said Representative Schor, a democrat from Lansing as he listed modern "land lines" that aren't traditional.

Schor's concern, is for the people who do use--old school, what are called "POTS" land lines. (POTS stands for "plain old telephone service.) Schor wants those people to be able to keep their service.

"The consumers are going to continue to have land line service. I think even with this bill passing, folks will continue to have land line service," said Schor.

"This has the potential for greater technology use in Michigan and so we are going to see what we can do to promote that, to promote a free market system, but also to protect consumers," said Ari Adler, the press secretary for the Speaker of the House, Jase Bolger, a republican. "We want to make sure that people are comfortable with whatever phone that they need to feel comfortable with at home."

Still, the AARP is strongly against the idea--saying it will cost lives.

"When the power goes out, after a certain amount of time your backup battery is dead, and so you are totally without a phone," said Jacqueline Morrison, the director of the AARP in Michigan. "I was disappointed [by Thursday's vote] because I know, once we educated our members about this issue--all 1.4 million of them--thousands of calls when into their state representatives, particularly from rural areas."

Thursday the Michigan Senate overwhelmingly approved the bill, 31 to 4.

It's possible the bill could get approved out of committee and be voted on by the whole House the end of next week, when this year's legislative session ends.

AARP thinks lawmakers should take their time before casting a decision.

"I think we could take more time to deliberate over just what the risks are to people's lives, if wireless technology is the only way people can communicate," said Morrison.

AT&T says it is not the driving force behind the change, consumers are.

"Consumers have been driving this transition for years," said Resch. "This is not something we are pushing. Consumers are switching everyday from a traditional wired voice service to either a VoIP product or a wireless product."

Resch said, while current VoIP products tend to be sold in bundles that are more costly than just a traditional phone line and offer more services, by the time the law is implemented, AT&T will sell singular comparable products, just like a traditional land line.

"The bill goes into affect three years from now, and this transition will be going on for many years beyond that, the voice only product over VoIP will be coming out and that will be obviously a very comparable price to what people are experiencing today," said Resch.

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