Governor could sign bill ending AT&T landline requirement

ORLAND PARK, Ill. (WLS) -- The I-Team is investigating controversy surrounding a bill which could be signed by Governor Bruce Rauner that would no longer require the telecom giant AT&T to provide traditional landline service.

The I-Team found this may be a huge hang up for some families who rely on landlines for 911 and other emergencies.

Mom Denee Conner considers her Orland Park landline a lifeline which is always able to pinpoint their exact address.

"I want the security of 911 knowing exactly where we are, and if the electricity goes out I have the landline going through at all times. I don't want any insecurities of what would happen in case of an emergency," she said.

Especially for her daughters, 4-year-old Charlotte and 7-year-old Savanna.

"When they call 911 they don't have to panic about their last names, where they live, what their phone number is, none of that stuff," Conner said.

But the bill could eventually pave the way to make traditional landlines a relic.

The legislation would replace the state's Telecommunication Act, which expires July 1. The bill recently passed the State Senate and the State House so if the governor signs it and the Federal Communication Commission Approves, it would change phone service requirements in the state.

"It would end the requirement for AT&T to offer landline phone services to its 1.2 million business and residential customers that have traditional home service," said Jim Chilsen, Citizens Utility Board.

CUB, a consumer watchdog group, is petitioning for the governor to veto the bill.

But AT&T said only about 10 percent of Illinois customers still use traditional landlines.

AT&T scheduled an interview with the I-Team at its Michigan Avenue store, but then 15 minutes before cancelled, citing a scheduling conflict. In a statement, AT&T said, "The claim home phone service is going away couldn't be further from the truth - it is only getting better."

Supporters said the bill would allow AT&T to invest in modernizing in new technology like "voice over internet protocol" or "VoIP" which is essentially an internet version of a landline.

"However, it goes out in a power outage, um, you know, it may not always be reliable with 911. We are talking about Illinois' most vulnerable phone customers, they need a landline link," Chilsen said.

The Federal Communications Commission also said VoIP may not be as reliable if the power goes out, and like cell phones may have "limitations" for pinpointing and connecting to a public safety answering point during an emergency.

But AT&T said the change would "help attract more investment to strengthen the advanced networks that our customers - including public safety officials - rely on every day."

The law could also allow consumers to petition to keep a traditional landline, but they would have to first get approval from the Illinois Commerce Commission, something the Conner family may do.

Besides the 911 concerns, her uncle wants to keep his reliable landline, instead of a smartphone, for doctors to monitor his heart.

"My uncle had a heart attack a year ago," she said. "The defibrillator is attached to the landline so if some kind of emergency happens or it goes off or anything, the doctor contacts them."

Nineteen other states in AT&T territory have already adopted similar legislation. AT&T said "Illinois is far behind other states on communications policy, but with this bill, the state can catch up."

If you want to voice your concerns to the governor, click here.
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