U.P. lawmakers opposed landline phone service bill

A bill that would make it easier for phone companies to eliminate landline service in Michigan is close to becoming law. The Michigan House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 636 Tuesday afternoon. It would allow phone companies to eliminate landline service anywhere in Michigan that they choose on 90 days’ notice, beginning in 2017.

The state Senate passed the bill 34-4 in December. Tom Casperson of Escanaba cast one of the four ‘no’ votes.

“I was on my way, driving to Lansing, when one of my staff members called to say, ‘hey, do you know why Tom voted no on that?’,” state Representative John Kivela of Marquette said. “Right then, before I could answer, I hit a dead spot and lost the office! And so, I called back. I said, ‘that’s exactly why, because we don’t have reliable coverage’.”

All four state representatives that serve the U.P. voted ‘no’ in the House as well, but the measure cleared the House anyway, 71-39.

State Representative Ed McBroom of Vulcan asked, “Is the Upper Peninsula really in a position that’s ready to transition away right now from landlines? People are very to quick to bring up a hard number and say, ‘oh, only 20% of the state (is) still using landlines’. Well, 20% of 10 million people is a lot of people.”

McBroom and Kivela both cited the affordability of landlines, as well as their superior reliability for 911 calls and in power outages.

“As this technology continues to expand, we’re seeing the products that people are having in their homes are equipped with battery backup,” AT&T of Michigan director of public affairs Matthew Resch said. “This is all part of what the Federal Communications Commission will be looking at. They will be looking at and answering these very questions. They need to feel confident in answering the questions before they’re going to let anything like this move ahead.”

“We’ve been told by AT&T, who pushed this, that ‘don’t worry; we’re not going to take someone’s line away’,” Kivela said. “Our response was, ‘then write that in the bill. Put it into law that you’re not going to allow this to happen’, and they refused to do it.”

Senate Bill 636 would no longer require that at least two other companies offer service in an area where a third company wants to end landlines. The House did write some minor changes into the bill, so it has to go back to the Senate one more time. Kivela says it’ll probably pass again, and he expects Governor Rick Snyder to sign the measure into law in the next few weeks.