One of my other identities is Alec Dubro, Policy Analyst, a fancy way of saying telecommunications blogger for Speed Matters. Last March I posted Telecoms quietly waging war on the right to a phone, which detailed the stealthy, but amazingly successful, lobbying campaign that AT&T and Verizon have been waging in statehouses across the country to end public regulation of landline phones.
Did you know that in at least four states you no longer have the right to have a phone installed in your house? And that number will grow.
Yesterday, we noted a report that detailed the extent of these lobbying efforts. Twenty states have ended or limited conditions on carriers, and 14 more states are considering it. The reason for this wave of deregulation, wrote professor and technology expert Susan Crawford, is changing technology, money and a lack of political resistance.
“…the phone companies,” said Crawford in Wired, “seeing how expensive it would be to upgrade their networks to fiber, are fleeing their copper wires and focusing entirely on wireless access – leaving the wired field almost entirely to essentially unregulated cable companies.”
So, rather than invest in American and improve landlines – which carry not just telephone, but broadband and TV – AT&T and Verizon have chosen to evade any civic responsibility. This hits rural America particularly hard, especially in areas where wireless is spotty and broadband speeds are already low.
And guess who’s helping AT&T and Verizon bulldoze their way through state legislatures? Why, my evil namesake and nemesis, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the tool of the right wing and the Koch Brothers.
For instance, in California, AT&T are pushing S.B. 1611 which, among other things, seeks to eliminate a provision of the California Code which ensures, “our universal service commitment by assuring the continued affordability and widespread availability of high-quality telecommunications services to all Californians.” In other words, if they don’t want to sell you a phone line – because you’re too remote, or live in a dodgy neighborhood – they don’t have to.
California does, of course, have a progressive tradition, but AT&T and ALEC are fighting hard. According to one pro-consumer blog, “there are at least 120 AT&T lobbyists working in the state capital Sacramento, one for every California lawmaker.” Plus, the bill’s chief sponsor is Rep. Alex Padilla (D-20th Senate District), who “has received more contributions from AT&T than from any other corporation in both the 2006 and 2010 elections.”
ALEC has distributed similar legislation around the country, and three bills appeared in the Northeastern states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. But, as Alternet reported:
“…a coalition, including the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the Working Families party, and the AARP managed to stop the bills, which would’ve resulted in cost hikes, lost jobs, and service cut-offs for “less profitable” customers—disproportionately senior, rural, or low-income customers who use basic phone service.”
So, if you want to keep that phone – or at least if you want your parents to keep it – spread the word and fight AT&T, Verizon and ALEC. (The other ALEC, not me.)