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Ky. May Deregulate Land Line Service Amid Concerns

By BEN FINLEY

MANCHESTER, Ky. (AP) â¿¿ Americans are increasingly abandoning their land line telephones â¿¿ but not in Appalachia, where the foothills and peaks swallow cell phone signals.

Landis Cornett can't get service on his iPhone until he drives seven miles from his house.

"Supposedly somebody on the other end of the stretch was going to build a tower," said Cornett, a small business owner. "It never materialized."

Customers such as Cornett are worried about a bill in Kentucky's Legislature that would loosen requirements that telephone companies provide land line service to all customers. While protections for rural areas are built into the bill, opponents worry it could be the first step in a gradual erosion of service for customers in sparsely populated areas that are less profitable for phone companies.

Traditional phone providers such as AT&T argue the requirement is outdated and unfair, burdening them as they compete with wireless and cable companies that offer phone service but lack the same regulation. AT&T says the legislation would free up capital for them to bring more cell phone signals and Internet service to rural areas such as Manchester, which is 90 miles southeast of Lexington.

AT&T is pushing for the bill, which also would affect two other companies that offer land line service in the state, Cincinnati Bell and Windstream.

Lawmakers have until the end of Tuesday, the last day of this year's legislative session, to vote on the bill.

Since 2009, nine states have limited or eliminated basic-service requirements, according to Sherry Lichtenberg of the National Regulatory Research Institute, an organization that serves state utility regulators.

"I'm not aware of any terrible things that have happened so far," she said, referring to fears that rural areas could be left without service. "But I think we need to caveat that because so far is not a whole lot of time."

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