State landline bill is bad policy, news for people rural areas

The Michigan Senate passed Senate Bill 636 earlier this month, streamlining the process for telephone companies to disband their landlines services as soon as 2017.

Once again, it seems like Lansing legislators are leaving those in the Upper Peninsula to fend for themselves.

Cell service is almost always hit or miss in the wide expanse that is the U.P. Travel any highway, back road or main street and try to make a call. It won’t always work.

And those issues are not just isolated to the areas of the U.P. that are sparsely populated. Some people can’t make cell phone calls from their homes just a few minutes outside a population center.

The landlines that connect people’s homes to their security systems, so if someone tries to break in, the security company is notified right away. Or the ones that are connected to Life Alert or other, similar life-saving systems that can call 911 in the event of a medical emergency..

While the bill requires proof that other lines of communication are available and reliable in areas the telecommunications companies wish to disband their landline services, those investigations are not triggered by the state. Instead, the bill requires the company to file a petition with the Federal Communications Commission and notify anyone who could be impacted.

Then, only a private citizen can ask the Michigan Public Service Commission to investigate the availability of alternate communications services. The commission would only be allowed to conduct an investigation at the request of a consumer, not on its own.

We think this shifts too much responsibility away from the telecommunications companies and leaves the commission with too little power.

We know and understand that the telecommunications industry has its own problems these days, like a lot of businesses.

That said, there must be a better way than this bill.

We applaud state Sen. Tom Casperson for being one of only five senators to say no to it. We hope the governor says no as well.