New bill could axe landline telephones

MARQUETTE – On Dec. 11, 2013, the Michigan House Committee on Energy and Technology passed a telecommunications bill that will allow phone companies to eliminate landline service with only 90 days notice starting in 2017.

The full house is still considering the legislation. The Senate voted previously to pass the bill.

Senate Bill 636 is strongly opposed by the American Association of Retired Persons of Michigan, due in large part to the fact that a majority of seniors in the state would prefer to keep their landline service rather than switch over to using a cellphone.

“I appreciate having a phone at home with the same number that I’ve had for almost as long as I’ve lived here, and having my name in the phone book so if somebody needs to find me, they can,” said Marie Watanen, 74, of Marquette. “So I would not appreciate having it taken away.”

Another reason why the bill is opposed by many seniors is because in some parts of Michigan, broadband service is unavailable and cellular signals are extremely low at best.

“I think that happens in this area more than it would in other areas,” Watanen said. “This is not a big city; it’s very possible that you are not going to get cell phone reception.”

She said that there are a great deal of things that have changed over the years in regards to new technology, and this is just one more thing that will make life more difficult for seniors.

“A telephone has a place where you keep it,” she said. “With a cellphone, you put it down, and it’s very easy to forget where you put it. You could be looking for it in an emergency and wouldn’t be able to find it right away.”

Telephone companies are supporting the bill because landline phone usage has fallen drastically over the past few years, and many customers have made the switch to cellphone service. They are arguing that the maintenance of both services is becoming more and more expensive.

However, Watanen added that there are a lot of seniors all over the country that are very unfamiliar to cellphones and how they are used.

Jean Erickson, 86, of Gwinn, said, “I’ve never used a cellphone and I’ve never thought of getting one. I don’t know why they would do this.”

The Life-Alert system is another service that would be affected by the change, since it is set up through a landline telephone.

Watanen said that before her mother passed away, she lived alone in a Marquette area home.

“She had a Life-Alert system, and because of that, I was then able to feel comfortable when she was at home by herself,” she said. “If anything ever happened, she would be able to get the help she needed.”

Marquette County Commissioner Bruce Heikkila said recently, “I think they are way ahead of themselves to try to get something like this right now, and I am just totally against it.”

Justin Marietti can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 245.