IL Consumer Advocates Prepare To Battle Big Telecom

CHICAGO, Dec. 18, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Consumer advocates this week united to block an expected legislative push by big telecom companies that would allow for the elimination of low-cost home phone service in Illinois, as polling conducted on behalf of AARP shows strong support for protecting reliable and affordable home phones.

The poll findings were released as AARP Illinois and the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) launched a "Save Our Service (SOS) Campaign" ahead of the 2015 General Assembly session. The Illinois Telecommunications Act is up for review, and the telecom industry is expected to renew efforts to scrap state requirements to provide access to affordable home phone service. Illinois has 1 million residential landlines, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), serving some of the state's most vulnerable citizens.

Illinoisans can visit www.SaveOurPhoneService.com to send a message to legislators about this issue. 

The phone industry, which makes billions of dollars a year, would like to stop providing landline service, leaving customers with substitutes that tend to be more expensive and less reliable, such as AT&T's computer-based U-Verse or wireless alternatives.

According to the survey conducted on behalf of AARP by Hart/North Star Opinion Research, 64% of respondents said they wanted "reliable, affordable landline service in Illinois" protected. Almost half of the respondents—48%—said they use traditional phone service nearly always or most of the time. The survey, conducted in July, polled 802 Illinois residents aged 50 and older who were likely to vote in the Nov. 4 election.

"Landlines are lifelines for countless older Illinoisans and their families," said Gerardo Cardenas, AARP communications director. "This summer, Illinois voters sent a clear message regarding traditional home phone service, and we urge policymakers in Springfield to ensure consumers have access to quality, affordable, reliable landlines, regardless of where they live."

"Smartphones are wonderful technology, but they're not cheap and anybody who has travelled across Illinois knows they're not always reliable," CUB Executive Director David Kolata said. "Landlines are still the most affordable, reliable option for millions of people and we shouldn't take away that choice."

CUB is concerned that a revision of the state's Telecom Act would:

Scrap the "Obligation to Serve" requirement. This mandates companies provide home phone service throughout Illinois. Lifting it would mean local companies could abandon areas they deem "unprofitable."

Abolish "Safe Harbor" calling plans. Illinois mandates that AT&T offer the no-frills "Consumer's Choice" plans, which range from about $3 to $20 per month and were created by CUB under a legal settlement with AT&T. These plans, Illinois' best local phone deals, are under a state-mandated price freeze.

Landlines can be the most reliable, affordable lifeline to family and vital services such as 911, home security systems and medical monitoring devices. Forcing consumers to use computer-based or wireless substitutes as their primary phones could subject them to higher bills and problems that plague such options, including lack of service in extended power outages and dropped calls. 

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, with a membership of nearly 38 million, that helps people turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities, strengthens communities and fights for the issues that matter most to families such as healthcare, employment and income security, retirement planning, affordable utilities and protection from financial abuse. AARP has staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Learn more at www.aarp.org.

CUB, a nonprofit, was created by the Illinois Legislature and opened its doors in 1984 to represent the interests of utility customers. Learn more at www.CitizensUtilityBoard.org.

SOURCE Citizens Utility Board

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