Asleep at the Switchboard: New York Telephone Subscribership Sags, Now Ninth from the Bottom

A measure of well being and community connection is the household penetration level of telephone service.  The FCC maintains statistics which have measured over time the success of the universal service programs and telephone affordability policies of the state utility regulators.  The most recent FCC report, TELEPHONE SUBSCRIBERSHIP IN THE UNITED STATES (Data through July 2011), shows that New York State’s household telephone penetration level had reached 95.6% in 2010 but fell to 94.6% by July 2011.

Only seven states and the District of Columbia had lower household telephone penetration rates than New York did in July 2011.The data includes households where wireline service has been supplanted by mobile phones:

The specific questions regarding telephone asked in the CPS are: “Does this house, apartment, or mobile home have telephone service from which you can both make and receive calls? Please include cell phones, regular phones, and any other type of telephone.”6 And, if the answer to the first question is “no,” this is followed up with, “Is there a telephone elsewhere on which people in this household can be called?” If the answer to the first question is “yes,” the household is counted as having a telephone “in unit.” If the answer to either the first or second question is “yes,” the household is counted as having a telephone “available.”

Over time, other states have achieved far more progress toward universal telephone service than New York.  In 1983, the household penetration level for New York was 90.8% of households.  Far from being a leader, New York was in the bottom half of the states on this measure in 1983, but there were 21 states with even worse telephone penetration levels.

Since 1983, many states achieved more improvement than New York and now they surpass it.  States that once lagged but now outstrip New York include Alabama, North Carolina, Wyoming, Alaska, Utah, Texas, South Carolina, Kentucky, Idaho, Nevada, Louisiana and Mississippi.

New York is clearly lagging in implementation of proactive universal service policies to assure full availability of affordable phone service to all households.  More attention needs to be paid by the legislature to the performance of the PSC and telephone utilities in implementing state and federal universal service and telephone lifeline programs to aid low income New Yorkers who cannot afford phone service.

 

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