Tennessee bill would give break to phone companies

Tennessee bill would give break to phone companies

February 26th, 2013 by Andy Sher in Local Regional News

The Tennessee State Capitol in downtown Nashville.

Photo by The Tennessean /Times Free Press.

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.