Rural phone carriers applaud Senate passage of legislation streamlining outdated regulations

Pennsylvania would take a big step forward in closing the urban/rural digital divide under legislation, SB 1112, approved this week by the Senate.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York), would streamline decades-old regulations that do little more than divert potential private investment dollars from rural broadband deployment projects. Members of the PA Telephone Association (PTA), the rural phone carriers, or RLECs, are still required to incur the costs of complying with theses rules adopted by the Public Utility Commission (PUC) in an era when the carriers had a virtual lock on the telecommunications market. With increased competition from lesser-regulated providers, the RLECs now have just nine percent of that market.

“Many of the regulations which exist in the state’s Public Utility Code have been in place for decades while changes in technology and in the telecommunications marketplace have made these costly requirements unnecessary or illogical,” Phillips-Hill said after passage of the bill. “Without modernizing our outdated laws, we will continue to see a widening gap in our digital divide.”

The Senate sent the bill to the House on a strong 33-16 vote.

The outdated regulations also put the RLECs at a competitive disadvantage with cable, wireless and other telecommunications companies not regulated by the PUC.

At the same time, the bill does nothing to reduce the PUC’s oversight over critical services. RLECs will remain the carriers of last resort, meaning that they must offer service to everyone in their service territories. And the PUC will still have oversight over slamming and cramming of customers’ bills; 911 service;  telecommunications relay service for deaf, hard of hearing and speech disabled individuals.

The PTA applauds Sen. Phillips-Hill, and members of the Senate, and we look forward to working with the House to get this important legislation to the governor’s desk.