Landline phone bill scheduled for MI House vote Tuesday

Millions of Americans have stopped using landline phones in the last few years. With that in mind, a controversial bill having to do with landline service is about to come up for a vote in the Michigan House of Representatives. ABC 10 senior reporter Mike Hoey explores how U.P. lawmakers feel about it.

The Michigan Senate approved Bill 636 in early December. It would give phone companies the right to discontinue landline service to any areas of Michigan that they choose on 90 days’ notice, beginning in 2017. Phone companies say the process would be regulated by the FCC and that no one who wants service would be left without it.

“The wire is still the exact same wire coming into their house that’s been coming into their house for 50 years,” AT&T of Michigan director of public affairs Matthew Resch said. “Basically, if you have Internet coming into your house at this point, you can have voice coming into your house over that exact same line, and I think that 98.5% of households across the state of Michigan have access to that already.”

Traditional landlines are powered by electricity, as opposed to Internet signals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided a picture in December 2012 of how quickly the phone landscape is changing. The CDC says the percentage of American households that don’t have a landline phone has nearly doubled since 2008, going from 20% to more than 35%. More than half of all U.S. adults younger than 35 don’t have a landline at home.

Tom Casperson of Escanaba was one of only 4 state senators who voted ‘no’ on Senate Bill 636. “I don’t think AT&T is wrong in where they’re trying to go; they’re certainly trying to move into the 21st century,” Casperson said. “But I think the caution comes in with the fact that there might be remote areas that it could — and I say ‘could’ because they argue, AT&T, that it doesn’t — but it could, I believe, cause some outages or some problems.”

State Representative Ed McBroom of Vulcan has spoken with Casperson at some length about the bill. “We drive across so much of the U.P. and encounter so many dead spots that I have a lot of concerns about this withdrawal of service through the traditional landlines and the dependence on newer technologies,” McBroom said. “I’m sure it’s coming, but I’m just not sure that the timing is quite now or that it will be for sure in 2017.”

Senate Bill 636 will come up before the full House for a vote on Tuesday afternoon.