Pounds: Calling on SB 271Written by Tom Pounds | President / Publisher | email@example.com
It certainly will not attract the attention that last year’s Senate Bill 5 controversy did, but the debate concerning Ohio Senate Bill 271 merits discussion and support. The telecommunications bill would remove the Carrier of Last Resort (COLR) requirement in areas deemed “fully competitive” by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. Under COLR restrictions, a carrier “is required by law to provide service to any customer in a service area that requests it, even if serving that customer would not be economically viable at prevailing rates.” This is a leftover restriction from the telecommunications monopoly days, which have long been forgotten in our hypercompetitive marketplace.
The new legislation also provides safeguards for the consumer if a market area reverts back to being noncompetitive.
According to telecommunication industry testimony before the Ohio Senate, “The motive to do away with the COLR obligations is simply to be able to invest the limited private sector capital where it is better utilized and provides needed services to the consumer. Currently the Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier (ILEC) (think of it as the local phone company) must provide service to the consumer in that territory regardless of how distant and regardless of the number of lines or the number of customers. Thus, if there were a small subdivision or a lone rural home that required a couple miles of phone lines to service them, the ILEC is obligated to incur the expense and provide the service, regardless of whether there are other providers available.” As Gov. John Kasich seeks to bolster Ohio as a “business-friendly” environment, there should be no place for such an outdated restriction.
AT&T invested more than $1.4 billion in its Ohio wireless and wireline networks from 2009 through 2011 with a focus on improving the company’s mobile broadband coverage and the overall performance of its networks. Like Columbia Gas of Ohio’s $18 million investment in new capital in 2011 to upgrade infrastructure in Toledo and another $20 million in 2012, such community investment should be encouraged, not restricted.
Critics of the bill, such as the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC) say the legislation “goes too far too soon … the General Assembly already provided a solution for the carrier-of-last-resort issue. That solution is the waiver process that was enacted in SB 162. The existing waiver process of SB 162 is better for consumers than the process proposed in SB 271 whereby telephone companies can use a weak test for competition to withdraw regulated basic telephone service for customers.”
But according to Charles Moses, president of the Ohio Telecom Association and its 45 member companies, “Ohio’s telecommunications landscape is changing dramatically, and it’s changing for the better. Updating Ohio’s telecom regulatory environment will provide even more voice, video and data access service choices for Ohio consumers through increased competition and will protect continued investment in the Ohio telecommunications network. Seven states have passed COLR relief legislation, and it is currently being considered in several more.”
More than a dozen Ohio senators are co-sponsoring SB 271; that indicates broad support. We applaud this effort and urge the passage of SB 271.
Thomas F. Pounds is president and publisher of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.