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Law Enforcement Wants To Slow Changes To Landline Phones

Tim Ellis/Flickr

Law enforcement groups have joined the effort calling on the Legislature to slow down approval of a bill that would make it easier for phone companies to end traditional landline service, and switch customers to internet phones.

Robert Stevenson of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police says there are still too many problems with voice-over-internet ensuring reliable 911 service -- especially in rural areas.

“You better not get sick during a power outage, and nobody better break into your house during a during a power outage because if they do, you can’t call the police,” said Stevenson at a press conference Monday.

“Not a single person will be left without acess to 911 service. Access to 911 service will be protected for everyone,” responded Matt Resch, a spokesman for AT&T. “This doesn’t happen tomorrow or next week. This is going to be many years in the process, and during that process, the FCC will make sure the technology and service is in a place where this technology can go forward.”

The measure before the Legislature would allow AT&T and other phone companies to switch customers from traditional landlines to voice-over-internet service with 90 days notice.

A big part of the fight is over how much control the Michigan Public Service Commission should have to issue orders. Under the bill before lawmakers, the MPSC would be allowed to file its objections and concerns with federal regulators, but could not expressly veto phone companies’ plans on its own.

“Our concern is that the flaws in this legislation, in this bill, won’t become evident until after it’s enacted, and that’s too late,” said Terry Jungel of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association. “That’s too late when people don’t have access to emergency communications.”

Resch says there’s plenty of time to work through any problems before the new law would take effect in 2017. He also says federal regulators won’t approve anything that doesn’t ensure public safety. 

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.