AT&T officials were in town this week to announce new job opportunities in the region while touting the company’s investment in Kentucky.
The telecommunications giant is also trying to garner support in eastern Kentucky for legislative changes that would end a requirement that basic phone service be provided by wire or wireline connections. This change has vocal opposition in the mountainous regions of Kentucky, where rural customers fear they could be left behind.
AT&T is continuing to add jobs in the region, including another 140 positions announced Wednesday at its East Park Call Center.
The company has already filled 195 jobs at the center in 2013 and has plans to add the additional 140 positions by the end of 2013, according to the new president of Kentucky AT&T Hood Harris.
Harris was in Ashland on Wednesday for the announcement as part of an eastern Kentucky tour to familiarize himself with the region. Harris, who was named to the post Aug. 1, is relocating from Atlanta to Louisville.
“These new jobs demonstrate our commitment to providing top-notch service to our customers nationwide, as well as good jobs in eastern Kentucky,” said Harris. He noted the call center has additional space to expand. “That is one of my goals,” he said.
Once the newly announced 140 jobs are filled there will be approximately 550 workers at the site. AT&T currently employs more than 3,000 Kentuckians, according to the company. In addition it has 4,000 retirees in the state.
“In addition to bringing good jobs to the region, we will continue working with state legislators to update communications laws to encourage even more investment in advanced wireless and broadband technology across eastern Kentucky,” he said.
For the second year in a row, Kentucky lawmakers failed to pass legislation that will deregulate telephone service, which opponents claim will jeopardize landline service to rural customers. Senate Bill 88, sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, was approved in that chamber but failed to pass the Democratic-controlled House. The legislation would allow companies, including AT&T, to drop landline service if comparable services are available from another source.
Harris said he would continue to work with all stakeholders across the state to craft legislation “that ensures no one gets left behind.” He said he envisions such legislation including “protections for consumers.” His goal, he said, is to get to a place where no one will be forced onto a wireless plan, and will have “an option” and can be confident in the service provided.
According to AT&T, the company has seen a 10 percent decrease in its copper-wire service each year since 2008 and all indications are that will continue. Customers are switching to wireless or broadband services.
Kentucky’s current laws require the company to invest in both its new and old technology at the same time, even as the old equipment goes out of production and becomes increasingly costly to upgrade.
“This transition is happening. People are moving over to an IP platform,” Harris said, noting the telecommunications world has changed drastically in six years. “It’s going to change just as dramatically in the next six years. I don’t know what that is going to look like but I want Kentucky to be positioned to take advantage of that,” he said.
Kentucky is only one of two states, the other being West Virginia, that has not upgraded its regulations in recent years to reflect the technological changes. Proponents say the delay is costing Kentucky millions of dollars in telecommunications investment that can spur economic growth.
“Our investment is in leverage, helping to create businesses and jobs,” said Harris.
To date in 2013, AT&T has invested approximately $110 million in wireless and wired networks in Kentucky. The company plans to invest an additional $110 million in the second half of the year, said Harris.
These investments include new macro cell sites, small cells and Distributed Antenna Systems. These are part of a three-year investment announced last year by the company to expand and enhance its IP broadband networks.
As part of the investment Ashland received 4G LTE service in May. However, some Ashland customers have complained of recent dead spots and dropped calls.
Harris said the company is seeing a huge surge in demand for services in the region and is working to add capacity.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653 or by email at email@example.com