Kentuckians Stop AT&T, Illinois Up Next

News from Kentucky is that for the second year in a row, Kentuckians went head-to-head against AT&T and won. The large telecom company wanted to abandon a commitment to provide land line telephone service to everyone in the state. But after initially passing the Senate, Senate Bill 88, better known as the AT&T deregulation bill, died in a House committee.

Members of the Illinois legislature are being inundated with AT&T lobbyists pushing for similar deregulation here. Illinois leaders can follow Kentucky's example by refusing to abandon the public.

Mimi Pickering, Director of Appalshop's Community Media Initiative, said a Kentucky coalition "beat back AT&T's legislative effort to deregulate itself and abandon carrier of last resort responsibilities in Kentucky."

With Kentucky's Senate Bill 88, AT&T promised to increase investments in wireless capability in exchange for no longer guaranteeing basic land line telephone service. But critics pointed to spotty cell phone service in the state, combined with the burden on people who can't afford bundled packages offered by phone and cable companies.

The coalition that included the Kentucky Resources Council, Kentucky AARP, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, municipal utilities, small phone companies, and Appalshop's Community Media Initiative worked hard to get their voice heard. Key House leaders listened and held out against the bill by standing firm on behalf of the most vulnerable Kentuckians.

Tom FitzGerald of Kentucky Resources Council says that AT&T rolled out big money, 24 lobbyists, robo-calls, and print, radio and TV ads from AT&T's affiliate "Citizens for a Digital Future."

"Despite that," said FitzGerald, "we prevailed. We worked very well together, and with modest resources, fought a corporate juggernaut that has rolled through statehouses across the country. This was a joint effort to uphold the core principles of universal access, competition, interconnection, affordability, reliability, and safety that have been at the heart of national telecommunications policy for scores of years. For a second time, the truth won out."