LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan residents have steadily traded their land line phone service for cellphones over the past decade, and now state lawmakers are looking at making it easier for phone companies to quit offering the traditional service.
A Senate bill that would streamline regulations for phone companies ending the service after 2016 passed the House 71-39 Tuesday. It now goes back to the Senate with changes. Republicans control both chambers.
The legislation would transfer discontinuation approval authority from the state to the federal government, and would no longer require that at least two other companies offer services in an area where a third company wants to end traditional service. A phone company would need to notify its customers, the public and the state that it was proposing to end service, and notify them again when it received federal approval, at least 90 days before ending service.
The bill would also require that the Michigan Public Service Commission maintain a public database of land line service providers. The commission would field customer requests for investigations into unreliable access to 911 and emergency services. If it confirmed unreliable access, it could require a phone company to provide voice and emergency services, although not necessarily via traditional land lines.
Supporters say the legislation would help Michigan discard outdated technology that most residents have already dropped.
AT&T Michigan President Jim Murray said in a statement the bill would help the company invest in more efficient wireless communications and Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP.
"It's amazing in the last 15 years, people are voting with their feet and choosing the better technologies, more modern technology, in terms of trying to allow for those investments to happen," Rep. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, said. "This is what SB 636 allows us to do, and this continues to carry us into new investments in telecommunications."
Opponents of the bill include AARP Michigan, which says the legislation would leave some residents without affordable and reliable phone service. The group has questioned whether VoIP would be reliable in a power outage.
"We still have 2 million some people utilizing these lines," Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, said on the House floor. "All throughout the Upper Peninsula and I'm sure many of your areas, cell coverage is not really all that reliable just yet."
The number of traditional land lines in Michigan dropped from 6.7 million in 2000 to 2.6 million in 2012, according to the Federal Communications Commission. In the same period, the number of wireless lines increased from 3.5 million to 9.3 million. Another 1.4 million land line users were served with VoIP.
Senate Bill 636: http://1.usa.gov/1cv86dr