AT&T executives maintain that the company will continue to support traditional POTS voice lines in Illinois for those consumers who want them regardless of a new state law.
Just last week, the Illinois Legislature voted to allow AT&T to disconnect its remaining 1.2 million POTS voice customers statewide when lawmakers overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto and approved the telecom modernization bill last week, according to a Chicago Tribune report.
However, AT&T still needs the FCC’s blessing before it can make any change to the state’s POTS network.
"It's important for our Illinois customers to know that traditional landline phone service from AT&T is not going away anytime soon," said Paul La Schiazza, president of AT&T Illinois, in a statement.
Additionally, the new Illinois law includes an increase in the 911 emergency service fee for all phone customers, including wireless, online and traditional landline. According to a report in the Belleville News-Democrat, Rauner vetoed the bill because of the issues he had with the 911 rate increases.
"The new Illinois law helps plan for the eventual transition to only the technologies that customers overwhelmingly prefer today — modern landline service and wireless service," La Schiazza said. "While the timetable for that transition is undetermined at this time, it could take a number of years."
In May, the AT&T-supported legislation in Illinois that would eliminate a requirement for the telco to offer landline voice service, or "plain old telephone service," was met with opposition from the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) and the AARP, igniting new debate on legacy services transitions.
Senate Bill 1381, which was passed 56-2 in May, would abolish the state requirement that incumbent carrier AT&T offer traditional phone service.
While it’s true that more consumers are ditching their landlines for the convenience of wireless, a number of critics of the bill say there’s still a large population of older users that still regularly use POTS voice service.
"If AT&T succeeds in ending traditional landline phone service, we think that will hurt people—particularly seniors and those with medical conditions—who depend on a landline as their most reliable link to vital services," said Jim Chilsen, a spokesman for the CUB, an Illinois nonprofit watchdog group.
CUB’s concerns about preserving landline are in line with some members of the FCC.
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn cited similar concerns when regulator issued a notice of proposed rulemaking on copper retirement during its April monthly meeting.
“At the end of the day, these transitions are either about replacing electronics on either end of a wire, or replacing that wire with fiber or other technologies,” Clyburn said. “But those infrastructure changes promise to fundamentally alter the very nature of the service offered to consumers. This is exactly why we must ensure that consumers’ concerns and needs are given credence during this process of retiring copper or discontinuing legacy services.”