NASHVILLE — With a brief explanation and no debate, the Senate on Monday voted unanimously to end a requirement that AT&T and other telephone companies fund a program that helps an estimated 93,000 low-income Tennessee households with a $3.50 monthly credit on their landline phone bill.
The AT&T-backed bill, which also is moving in the House, would prohibit the Tennessee Regulatory Authority from mandating companies "continuing to fund a social program," Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, told colleagues.
TRA is considering a case brought by an AT&T-led coalition of companies to end the program. The bill bypasses the regulatory route.
State Attorney General Bob Cooper's office has suggested alternatives to the "sudden elimination of a program that is important to many Tennesseans," according to a statement. The Consumer Advocate Division in Cooper's office represents consumers' interests before the TRA, which regulates many for-profit utilities.
Cooper's office is taking no position on the bill. The AARP also has voiced concerns about the impact on the elderly and others.
Proponents argue the state policy is no longer needed because of the growing use of cellphones.
While the legislation would eliminate the state's Lifeline program, it would not affect the federally funded Lifeline program that now provides a $9.25 per month subsidy to the poor.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...