Weekend Roundup: No More Phones

Kentucky may cut mandatory phone service • Buffalo Creek, 40 years ago this Sunday • Santorum is not getting energy industry love

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Editor’s Note: In a story by William Major just down this page, you can read about the Buffalo Creek disaster of 40 years ago. (Or your an read Ken Ward Jr.’s account in the Charleston, West Virginia newspaper here.) To see the disaster, however, try the Youtube below. It’s a shortened version of Mimi Pickering’s film about the disaster. 

Telephone companies in Kentucky are pressing the state legislature to allow them to end basic phone service in areas if other kinds of communications options are available, such as cell service or the Internet.

Rural groups are objecting. Friday, the National Rural Assembly sent out an alert to its members about what it called “potentially damaging legislation.”

The bill in the Kentucky legislature is being called “the AT&T bill,” according to Lexington Herald-Leader reporter John Cheves. The bill, Cheves writes, “would strip the Kentucky Public Service Commission of most of its remaining oversight of basic phone service” provided by the major carriers. The proposed change would relieve these companies from their duties as “carriers of last resort” for those living in their territories.

The companies say their landline business has dropped by half in the last ten years. They say it is unfair to require them to provide service that isn’t provided by wireless and cable companies.

Opponents say the bill could work a hardship on rural and elderly customers. “For a lot of people in Eastern Kentucky, their land line is their life line,” Cathy Allgood Murphy, AARP Kentucky’s associate state director, told Cheves. “They may not be able to afford an Internet connection, and they don’t have cell phones because their communities, in the mountains, don’t get cell phone reception.”

The National Rural Assembly’s Rural Broadband Policy Group wrote that “this bill needs to be killed.” The Group said remote and poor areas could be “redlined” under the bill, as companies abandon territory that isn’t profitable. The Group also objected to provisions in the bill that would strip state regulatory oversight.

A more thorough analysis of the bill by the Kentucky Resources Council can be found here

• The USDA now has a pilot program at at helping rural homeowners who owe more on their houses than their houses are worth. 

The program will allow underwater homeowners in rural communities to refinance their homes with lower interest rates. To be eligible, homeowners must have a direct loan with the USDA or have a loan that is guaranteed by the agency. There are 237,000 homeowners eligible nationwide.

Politico notes that the energy industry isn’t exactly flocking to support former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum in his presidential bid.

Santorum had worked for the big coal producer Consol after losing a Senate race in 2006. But in this race, Politico notes that Consol and other energy firms are giving much more to Mitt Romney, Rick Perry…even President Barack Obama.

“Santorum’s gotten so little love from the energy industry because of doubts over his electability, especially compared with Romney, according to several energy industry officials,” write Abby Phillip and Darren Samuelsohn. 

Still, Santorum has been an eager supporter of the industry. “Now they’re going after hydrofracking,” Santorum said earlier this month at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. “I come from Pennsylvania — we’re doing a little bit of that in Pennsylvania, thank God. And guess what: Of course now that we’re doing hydrofracking near the population centers, the bogeyman comes out: ‘Ooh, look what it’s going to do to you!'” 

 

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