On May 24, 2011, Governor Scott Walker signed into law legislation that largely deregulates telephone service in Wisconsin. The legislation, codified as 2011 Wisconsin Act 22, was pushed through the Legislature by AT&T and other telephone companies looking to remove laws and regulations that protect consumers from high prices and poor telephone service.
Under provisions of Act 22, telephone companies can now charge consumers any price they wish for landline telephone service, even in areas of the state where there are no alternatives to landline service, such as many rural areas of Wisconsin.
Starting in May 2013, telephone companies won’t have to offer landline service, potentially stranding thousands of residents without alternatives such as cell phones or Internet phones.
If you have a complaint about landline telephone service, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, which had regulated telephone service for decades, is prohibited by the legislation to help consumers resolve their complaints. However, you can still call the commission at 1-800-225-7729 and let them know the problem you are having, and they can direct you to people at your telecommunications provider who may be able to help.
CUB had worked with an ad hoc coalition of telecom companies, unions, and small business associations to stop this and similar legislation in previous years, but this time around, AT&T was able to convince enough legislators to support the deregulation legislation.
Currently, about 2.2 million landlines are in use in Wisconsin, with many elderly citizens preferring landline service. Further, many rural areas have landline phones, but don’t have cell phone coverage or Internet phones. CUB is worried these customers have been abandoned by lawmakers too eager to help AT&T make higher profits by removing consumer protection laws that require fair prices and reliable landline telephone service.
Reduction in Funding for Focus on Energy
In a disappointing move, Governor Scott Walker and the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee slashed the funding for Focus on Energy – a program that saves Wisconsin residents and businesses billions of dollars on energy bills, creates thousands of new jobs, and protects our environment.
Since it was created in 2001, Focus on Energy has:
- Lowered energy costs for Wisconsin residents and businesses by $2.50 for every dollar invested in the program;
- Saved nearly $2 billion on energy bills for more than 2 million Wisconsin residents and businesses;
- Created more than 2,400 jobs; and
- Reduced emissions of carbon dioxide (5 billion pounds); sulfur dioxide (8 million pounds); nitrogen oxides (7 million pounds); and mercury (32 pounds – one of the most toxic pollutants).
Because of its tremendous success and strong demand for services, in late 2010 the budget for Focus on Energy was increased. Unfortunately, in early May 2011, the Joint Finance Committee reversed the increases and froze funding at previous lower levels. Unfortunately, Governor Walker included these cuts to Focus on Energy in his state budget for 2011-2013, which was signed into law at the end of June.
Since every dollar invested in Focus on Energy saves at least $2.50 on energy bills, these cuts will increase energy bills for residents and businesses by at least $800 million over the next four years.
CUB urges you to contact Governor Walker and ask him to restore the funding to Focus on Energy. Unless residents and businesses are provided with the tools offered by Focus on Energy to reduce energy use, we’ll pay higher energy bills in the future, be exposed to additional pollution, and fail to create thousands of jobs in the energy efficiency sector.