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Opposition Arises Against 2 Proposals Allowing AT&T To Stop Landline Service

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Citizens Utility Board, AARP and the Illinois Public Interest Research Group are teaming up in opposition to proposed legislation in the Illinois General Assembly to would let AT&T get rid of traditional landline phones.

The Illinois Telecommunications Act expires July 1st.

There are two proposals (Senate Bill 1381 and House Bill 2691) that would eventually allow AT&T in Illinois to drop, what Citizens Utility Board spokesman Jim Chilsen calls, "traditional landlines" and what AT&T calls "old style landlines".

"Our fear is that, what AT&T really wants to do is push consumers onto phone options that tend to be more expensive and tend to be less reliable," Chilsen said.

He said that is especially true following a recent multi-state AT&T cellular 911 outage.

The groups are calling their campaign "S-O-S," which stands for Save Our Service.

Southwest-Sider Katherine Panny said she is in her 80s, does not have a cellphone or a computer and has a rotary dial phone on her kitchen wall. She said she likes it.

"I depend on this landline with my life," she said.

Panny adds that the landline phone "has been the most steady thing that anyone could ever want."

AT&T Illinois and Midwest President Paul La Schiazza said his company can offer affordable, reliable service, but with more modern technologies.

La Schiazza said that, by the end of this year, "less than 10 percent of the households [in Illinois] will have an old style, voice-only line in their home."

He said 1,000 traditional landlines are going away every day.

With more modern equipment, La Schiazza said, people with traditional land lines would be able to use their plug-in phones but with lines that are likely to be capable of carrying the internet and other data.

With the exception of people like Katherine Panny who have rotary dial phones, La Schiazza said those customers "can still plug in their old-style black landline phone into that box for a very, very affordable price."

La Schiazza said it's getting harder to maintain the old style equipment.

"Believe it or not, even AT&T at times, has to go to Ebay to scrounge for parts to keep these old-style switches running," he said.

Before AT&T would be able to drop the traditional landline service, it would need the approval of the Federal Communications Commission. The current Illinois legislation would allow that to happen locally if the FCC makes that decision.

La Schiazza said 19 neighboring states have already passed similar legislation.

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