Right now a bill making its way through Michigan's state legislature would make it easier for phone companies to stop offering traditional land line service. Phone companies, including AT&T, are in support saying this would allow them to bring antiquated technology up to date, but sheriffs and police chiefs across the state say it would put people at risk.
The bill passed overwhelming in the Senate then passed through a house committee. Supporters say they expect the house to take up the bill in 2014. But Senate Bill 636 is seeing strong opposition from emergency responders who worry about people in rural areas.
Hopefully you never have to call 911, but if you do, you'll want to get through. Law enforcement officials are worried that the bill could affect your ability to get a hold of help in an emergency.
"Our concern is to make sure it is reliable 911 services," says Van Buren County Sheriff Dale Gribler. Gribler is the chairman of the state 911 committee. He and Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey have serious concerns about the bill.
The bill would allow phone companies to transition their networks from the old land line service to an internet based service. According to Matt Resch, an AT&T spokesperson, maintaining the old land lines is expensive and switching would free up money that these phone companies believe could be better spent on newer technology like wireless and the internet based land lines technology.
"It (the bill) streamlines the process in Michigan by which a company like AT&T could get approval from the Federal Communications Commission to transition our network from one that is the old voice on land line that has been around for 100 plus years to one that is based on the internet which will be faster, more reliable and more affordable for everyone," says Resch.
Resch says customers are dropping traditional land line services and opting for faster internet based service. He says right now Michigan has more cell phones than it has people and 83 percent of all 911 calls on AT&T's network were made on a wireless or internet based phone.
But it is the argument of reliability that is being questioned by Gribler, Bailey and other sheriffs and police chiefs across the state.
They say the internet based phone service is affected by weather, power outages and high call volume and could put people in rural areas at risk.
"We understand progress is needed to move along and technology is going to push us forward, but again reliable 911 service, that is all we are asking for," says Gribler.
The bill wouldn't take away your home phone. You could still have a home phone; it would just be over an internet based service instead. Resch says, because not everyone has that internet based service yet the bill would allow customers who would be losing their traditional land line service to ask the Public Service Commission to look into whether reliable access to 911 is still available.
Bailey and Gribler say they want the technology to be available to everyone before the state makes the transition, not after.
If passed, it would go into effect in 2017 -- although it would still need to be cleared by the Federal Communications Commission.