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The battle over phone technology is being dialed up in Illinois

Consumer groups claim measures of the Illinois Statehouse could mean the end of traditional landline service. AT&T says it's part of the ongoing shift to modern technology, which is reliable.
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Consumer rights groups in Illinois are leading the opposition to proposals before the state legislature that they say could end traditional landline phone service. They claim AT&T wants to shift customers to more expensive plans. But the telecommunications company says that conclusion is not accurate.

AT&T says it has wireless plans that are cheaper than traditional landlines, especially after all taxes and fees are added up. It also says most business and residential customers in Illinois have already shifted to modern technology or still have access to a fixed phone line.

The Citizens Utility Board, Illinois Public Interest Research Group and AARP say the bills under consideration in the House and Senate seek to deregulate phone service, leaving copper-based landlines in the past.

“They have higher profit margins on wireless phones,” Citizen Utility Board Director of Governmental Affairs Bryan McDaniel told St. Louis Public Radio Wednesday after a news conference in East St. Louis.

He added the company can still make money on the older technology, which can serve 1.2 million customers, while maintaining traditional service.

Reliability and peace of mind are the main reasons why St. Clair County resident Jim Pennebaker has kept his landline, even though he is also a wireless subscriber. His copper phone line is also connected to a home alarm system. That puts him at ease, in case first responders, like firefighters, have to be quickly notified.

“They are going to be there much quicker than when the flames are coming through the roof and then somebody's going, ‘hey look’, Pennebaker's house is on  fire,” the AARP volunteer said.

“Then you've lost all your invaluable, irreplaceable, pictures, movies, you know – heirlooms.”

The measures making their way through the Illinois legislature are Senate Bill 1381 and House Bill 2691. They come as the state’s Telecommunications Act is under review and set to expire July 1.

AT&T says many of the concerns about the bills are not valid. The company contends the proposals are part of the modernization of communications law, which should lead to stronger networks that handle all kinds of services from Internet streaming to calling 9-1-1. The state is planning to start implementing next generation 9-1-1 in 2018.

“Home phone service is not going away, " said AT&T Illinois President  Paul La Schiazza in a news release issued in February.

He insisted that modernization is making the service better, prompting many to leave the old technology behind.

Follow Wayne Pratt on Twitter: @WayneRadio

Wayne is the morning newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.