Wednesday, May 05, 2010

House approves telecom rewrite

By Rachel Wells

Telecommunications companies are a little closer to assurance that advanced technologies will not be regulated, at least until 2013, and that old technologies won’t drain their resources.

The House today approved a rewrite of the 1985 law regulating telecommunications companies operating in Illinois. The act was last updated in 2001.

Under the measure, SB 107, broadband and Internet-based phone providers would be guaranteed for the life of the law that those services would remain unregulated. Internet-based phone services would be required to register with the Illinois Commerce Commission but would only have to provide very basic information. That information would allow the state to map where Illinois does and does not have adequate broadband adoption.

Regulations on landline service providers would also be loosened. Instead of requiring repair of landline service within 24 hours, the measure would allow a 30-hour window. The threat of a $30 million fine for companies such as AT&T for failing to meet service quality standards would also disappear if the bill became law.

They would, however, still be subject to fines of up to $200,000 for each offense. Other service quality standards would include installing service to customers within five business days and keeping appointments with customers. Failing to meet those standards would result in consumer credits.

The measure would also fix costs for three levels of basic phone service for the next three years.

Proponents say loosening regulations and providing regulatory certainty will encourage telecommunications companies to invest in broadband in Illinois, which in turn would bring more jobs in other sectors to the state.

The consumer advocacy group The Citizens Utility Board says the bill contains no provisions requiring telecommunications companies to invest in broadband throughout the entire state, including rural and low-income areas, nor does it guarantee jobs.

“You can not guarantee the unguaranteeable,” said Rep. Kevin McCarthy, an Orland Park Democrat. “But we can guarantee the way we’ve been going up until now, has been nothing but losing jobs.”

The House approved the measure with unanimous support.

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