On March 27 a bill passed (HB 2201) the Kansas Senate that largely deregulated telephone companies in Kansas from being the carrier of last resort. The bill passed the Senate by 36 – 4 and passed in the House by 118 – 1. In the past telephone companies were required to provide telephone service to most customers who wanted service, with some limitations that applied to extremely rural customers. But the new bill provides a host of ways that can excuse a phone company from providing service.
The bill applies to all regulated telephone companies, but also to a lot of other companies that provide telephone service like cable companies and CLECs.
“I think we’re at the point where we can take one of our largest carriers (AT&T) and treat them as if they’re a wireless carrier or cable carrier,” said Sen. Pat Apple, the chairman of the Senate Utilities Committee.
House Bill No. 2201 (click to open .pdf) is the Senate-approved version of the bill. Since the Senate made changes it will have to return to the House for final approval or else go to a House-Senate conference committee if the House doesn’t accept the Senate’s changes.
It’s unclear how the bill might have changed the role of the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) who currently regulates telephone companies. Currently the KCC has the authority to ‘prevent fraud’ but the bill changes that authority to ‘investigate fraud’. It’s not clear if the KCC will have any authority to affect the behavior of a badly performing telecom provider, as is already the case with cellular companies today.
The bill also shrinks the Kansas Universal Fund, which is a pool of money collected from telephone customers in the state and that is used to support rural telephony.
The bill was originally authored by AT&T but was presented to the legislation with a united front by most of the carriers in the state. AT&T has lobbied for similar legislation in many other states. While Kansas is now the first state to effectively remove carrier-of-last-resort obligations, one would expect this to happen in other states. Telephone subscribers have been steadily dropping everywhere as consumers have shifted to cell phones and to VoIP carriers for their telephone usage.