Jim Anderson -- Illinois Radio Network

Should local phone companies be required to provide residential land-line service?

They have to now, to customers who want it, but next year they’ll be asking lawmakers to relieve them of the so-called “obligation to serve.” This is a bad idea, says David Kolata, head of the Citizens Utility Board.

“Big telecom’s push for total deregulation would threaten a significant number of Illinois consumers. The state has 1.3 million (residential) land lines, and some of our most vulnerable citizens depend on traditional home phone service as a reliable, affordable and power outage-proof lifeline,” he said.

Old folks accustomed to having land lined in their homes and people who live in rural areas with spotty cell phone coverage would be affected, with their land-line service made either unavailable or the price going up.

Illinois’ Telecommunications Act is due to expire at the end of next year. Lawmakers will have to do something, even if it’s just extending the act as-is, but Kulota says the big phone companies – mainly AT&T and Frontier – will be asking to be relieved of the “obligation to serve” land-line accounts.

The phone industry says it has no intention of leaving needy customers high and dry, but there are many options now, including land-line service from the unregulated cable TV providers, and with those options in the marketplace, regulation need not be as strict.