03/27/2012 01:10 pm ET

Ohio Elderly Could Lose Landline Service If Pending Bill Is Passed

Some elderly Ohio residents may lose their only access to phone service if a bill pending in the state's legislature passes.

The bill would allow phone companies to stop providing basic landline service in areas where other companies are operating, even if service isn't being provided throughout the area, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports.

That means some customers -- particularly the elderly who are more likely to rely on landline service -- may still fall through the cracks. And with the number of elderly Ohio residents living in poverty rising by about 201,000 between 1989 and 2009, according to a 2011 report by the Ohio Department of Development, that would pose a significant problem for the state.

But Ohio isn't the only state where landline users are at risk. A Kentucky panel approved a draft of a similar bill earlier this month that was drafted by AT&T, which would allow companies to stop offering phone service in less profitable areas, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. Opponents say the proposed legislation would hit poor and elderly residents the hardest, many of whom rely on landline service for their basic needs, including 911 calls.

As customers increasingly turn to mobile phone service, programs aimed at providing landlines are being scaled back. The number of Americans only using a landline was cut in half between 2006 and 2009, according to Center for Disease Control and Prevention data cited by a Kentucky local NBC affiliate. During the same period the number of people only using cell phones grew to 30 percent from 25 percent.

The Federal Communications Commission began overhauling a program that subsidizes rural telephone service last year, according to The New York Times. The shift aims to convert the fund to providing subsidies for broadband internet service instead.

Phone companies, for their part, say that Ohio's proposed legislation would allow them to invest resources in new technology instead of sinking it into landline services, which are increasingly falling out of favor, according to the Plain-Dealer.