Rural Redlining?

The Communication Workers of America (CWA) points out an interesting result of telecom deregulation:
CWA and the IBEW, with the support of state and local AFL-CIOs, are engaged in a massive campaign to block Verizon’s plan to sell 1.6 million local access lines in Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire.

Campaign Underway to Block Verizon Sale in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire CWA, August 11, 2006

When AT&T was the national carrier, it connected everyone. With divestiture and deregulation, it seems at least one telco is further divesting accounts that it finds too expensive. This means that those 1.6 million local rural POTS subscribers may end up paying more for their telephone service, if they can afford it.

CWA points out two other disadvantages:

The sale would adversely affect some 2,700 IBEW members who work as technicians, clerks, operators and service reps and 350 CWA members employed as service reps throughout the three states. Estimated by the Wall Street Journal to be worth as much as $3 billion, the sale would shrink the Maine-to-Virginia area where Verizon now provides landline telephone service and reduce the unions’ bargaining power.

For customers, it’s also bad news, said Cheryl Ahern, president of Local 1400. “Verizon would abandon its telephone customers in these rural states to smaller companies that do not have the assets to maintain the network or provide the same level of service — just dump them and stick with the more densely populated and more profitable states. Some of these customers would never get the same level of service again.”

Funny how these things happen when there’s no guarantee of universal service. Given that something like 80% of people in the U.S. live in cities, many people may see this as merely a problem for some rural hicks, but if the telcos can redline rural, they can redline inner cities, and exurbs, and eventually they can redline you. Oversight or competition seem to be the obvious solutions.