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Landline Phones Called a "Necessity" for Elderly Iowans

Joyce Russell/IPR
Iowa Utilities Board Chairwoman Geri Huser

Consumer advocates who are worried about elderly Iowans in particular pleaded with the Iowa Utilities Board Tuesday not to ease up on phone companies who provide landline service, especially in rural Iowa.  

The Board is considering rules to give companies more time to restore service when there’s been a phone outage. 

The standards are there for a reason.

Anthony Carroll with the AARP says thousands of Iowans without cellphones still rely on landlines for everyday needs, including dialing 9-1-1.

“When you talk about telephone communications, you’re not just talking about a luxury,” Carroll says.  “For older Iowans especially, you’re talking about a necessity.”  

Currently companies have 72 hours to correct an outage.    The new rules would require companies to restore service with the shortest possible delay. 

There's no need to be adversarial on this.

“We have the standards,” Carroll said.   “They are working for a reason.”

Telecommunications companies say the old rules are outdated.

“We’re in an age and time where the current rules were set up in a monopoly environment that doesn't exist any more,” said CenturyLink Assistant Vice-President Michael Sadler.

Sadler says it has been harder to meet the 72 hour requirement as the company meets new broadband requirements.  

The vast majority of folks don't use phonebooks any more.

“As a business you have to devote your resources to where they’re best used,” Sadler said.

Sadler says there are times when it isn’t possible to make the repairs that quickly.  

The Utilities Board will review comments and may revise the rules.

“The rules say you have to have it fixed in 72 hours, and we know that’s not happening,” said Utilities Board chairwoman Geri Huser.  “Aren't there alternatives that we can be looking at, so that if you can't get the service up within 72 hours, you have to provide them with some other type of connectivity for 911 and that?”

“I don't know how that would work within our company, Madame Chair,” said CenturyLink Director of Regulatory Affairs Wayne Johnson.   “There’s no reason to be adversarial on this.”

How do you build flexibility into different situations?

Johnson says the new rules would give the company a chance to talk with the customer.   He says at times a customer doesn’t report the outage until 72 hours have already passed.

“How do you build flexibility into different situations?” asked board member Nick Wagoner.

“I would be hard-pressed to find someone who does not have someone in their life who still relies on landline,” Carroll said. 

The new rules will also allow phone companies to no longer routinely provide phone books.   Critics say that will present a hardship for Iowans without internet access..

The Office of Consumer Advocate in the Iowa Attorney General’s office is intervening on behalf of consumers in the case.