If you’ve ever had problems with your phone or cable service, you’re in luck. Well, maybe not in luck, but you do have the perfect opportunity to exact some revenge and maybe even force your service providers to do a much better job. AT&T is ramping up to spend big bucks this year in Springfield to once again try to get out of the state requirement that it provide everyone with a copper wire phone line. I haven’t had one of those in years. But lots of people still do, particularly older folks.
In the past, groups like the Citizens Utility Board and AARP have blocked AT&T’s efforts in the General Assembly. David Kolata at Chicago-based CUB tells me his group has “serious concerns” about what dropping that requirement would mean “for less populated and low-income portions of the state in particular.”
Even so, as hard-wired phone lines continue to dwindle, the company may have a better shot this year. That’s where you come in. What AT&T wants will be controversial. So it stands to reason that it will have to give up something in return.
Last year, Exelon wanted a bailout for its nuclear power plants. In return, it had to agree to stop opposing programs benefiting alternative energy like wind and solar, among other things. Groups like the Sierra Club ended up as big winners1.
CUB has a list of things it would like to happen. For instance, it wants to preserve or improve service quality standards for cable and telecom. These standards “are working,” Kolata says, saving money for hundreds of thousands of consumers. CUB also wants to change the state’s definition of high-speed internet/broadband, which Kolata says is “laughably slow.” Right now, the state standard is 200 kilobits a second, which is about as fast as those ancient dial-up modems2 from the 1990s that used compression technology.
When legislators approved ComEd’s “smart grid” bill3 in 2013, AT&T managed to insert a provision that prevented ComEd and Ameren from using their new smart networks to provide telecommunications services. Those power line networks can be super fast, and Kolata says utility companies could be given the option to use third-party companies to provide broadband services, which could reduce costs for everyone. Cable TV could also be sent over the electrical grid. More competition would be great.
I’ve used AT&T’s wireless service ever since I bought my first mobile phone 20-some years ago. While the company has greatly broadened its service reach over those years, there still are some dead spots along interstate highways. At the very least, all of those dead zones should be eliminated. I assume Comcast will also jump into the fray to get something for itself. I have a wish list for that behemoth, too. Comcast should be forced to comply with rules that mandate equalized volume on TV ads. Ever notice how some ads are so much louder than the programs?
I’m sure I’ve just barely scratched the surface here and that you have your own legitimate complaints. If you ever want to see some action, now is the time. Call your Illinois legislators. Tell them your stories, offer your suggestions. And make sure to tell them you’ll be watching to see if they get something done for you.