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February 20, 2013

Kansas Passes Bill to Further Deregulate Telecommunications



By Rory Lidstone
TMCnet Contributing Writer



A bill approved yesterday by the Kansas State House will reduce regulation in the state while phasing out consumer-financed subsidies for universal land line service. The bill received a high degree of approval with 118 votes and only one disapproval. It is expected to receive support at the Senate as well.

A follow up on laws passed over the last 10 years, which have also moved Kansas away from regulating phone service as the popularity of mobile devices increases, the bill is the result of an agreement between AT&T (News - Alert) and other telecommunications companies.

"It largely reflects what we're seeing in society — increased use of cellphones, decreased use of land lines," said Senate Utilities Committee Chairman Pat Apple (News - Alert), a Louisburg Republican, in a statement. "There are more options, and with more options come competition."

However, Freshman Rep. Larry Hibbard, a Toronto Republican who cast the only vote against the bill, pointed out that land lines are still "vital" in many rural areas, and that these areas could see higher rates.

Indeed, the bill allows telecommunications companies to avoid the Kansas Corporation Commission's consumer protection regulations and minimum quality of services standards, which could potentially lead to unfair practices for land line customers in the state. It also reduces state subsidies for companies that would normally bring adequate land lines to remote or sparsely populated areas.

Currently, that universal service charge is 6.42 percent, a rate that is expected to raise $63 million from March 2013 to February 2014, but the bill allows companies to choose to operate under lesser state regulation at the cost of reduced subsidies. Some supporters of the bill believe this charge could disappear completely within the next four years.

While it's still too soon to say if the bill will ultimately end up hurting consumers, it's certain that telecommunications companies in the area will be pleased to see a little bit of deregulation in a world of stifling telecom regulations.




Edited by Brooke Neuman
 
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