June 1, 2005

Illinois Coalition Wins State-Level Telecom Victory

Citizens groups and consumer advocates in Illinois claimed victory on May 31 as both houses of the Illinois General Assembly approved an extension of the state's main law on telephony and the internet.

The Illinois Telecommunications Act was slated to expire in 2005. A proposed rewrite -- SB 1700, the "Telecommunications Reform Act of 2005" -- evoked popular concern. The bill appeared to grant considerable advantages to dominant telecommunications companies, including reductions in public service obligations and protections against price gouging. While the bill passed the Illinois State Senate, it didn't advance in the Illinois State House.

The Illinois House instead advanced an alternate bill, SB96, which extended the state's current Telecommunication law through July 1, 2007, along with the assorted consumer protections which would have otherwise been eliminated.

The Illinois House approved the bill, 110-0-2, on May 31. The Illinois Senate followed the House lead by voting SB96 into law with a 58-0 vote. The bill becomes effective immediately.

John Gaudette, a public interest lobbyist with the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, commented: "This is a significant victory for the consumers of Illinois. Despite major lobbying by SBC, Verizon, Midsize telecoms, and a number of telecom industry groups, the consumer groups were strong enough to stop the constitutionals from generating a compromise and strong enough to stop the Chief Senator Sponsor from ramming this through both chambers."

Gaudette wrote comments in an email posted on the mailing list of Get Illinois Online, a coalition of Illinois consumer and community groups dedicated to public interest concerns involving telephone and the internet. The group was also working on preserving the rights of Illinois communities to establish community internet initiatives.

Such community organizing on telecom issues nationally is paying off. Besides this Illinois victory, anti-municipal telecommunication bills have been successfully fought off at the state level in Iowa, Texas, and Florida.

The struggle is now extending to the federal legislature. U.S. Representative Pete Sessions of Dallas has introduced legislation in Congress to impose a national ban on municipal-level community internet networks.