AT&T Seeks End to Mandatory Landline Service in California


The company’s decision affects rural communities and areas prone to power cuts that are dependent on landlines.

Telecom behemoth AT&T is seeking to end a designation in California that would free the company from an obligation to provide landline connections to customers who request it—a move that could have negative implications for many citizens in the state.

AT&T asked the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to be “relieved of its Carrier of Last Resort (COLR) obligations,” the agency said in a Jan. 26 press release. If the commission approves AT&T’s request, the carrier “would no longer be required to offer landline telephone service where it is currently required to offer Basic Service in those areas.”

Such services include “Lifeline rates for eligible customers, free access to 9-1-1, Telephone Relay Service, and directory and operator services.” Lifeline rates are reduced rates for phone and broadband services offered to qualifying low-income households.

“A COLR is a telecommunications service provider that stands ready to provide basic telephone service, commonly landline telephone service, to any customer requesting such service within a specified area,” said CPUC.

A carrier designated as COLR is legally prohibited from withdrawing their service in a state without getting approval from that state commission.

AT&T is the largest COLR in California. The company is requesting to end this status “without a new carrier being designated as a COLR,” the commission noted.

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Experts say the carrier’s move could spell trouble for many customers. “The impact is pretty wide—certainly seniors or people living in areas where reliable power is a problem … So, areas prone to hurricanes have a higher incidence of analog service than, say, Pennsylvania,” Lisa Pierce, a research vice president at market research firm Gartner, told CNN on Monday.

In an interview with the outlet, Patrick Blacklock, president and CEO of the Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC), said there were “significant concerns” with AT&T’s request to discontinue landline services.

Mr. Blacklock said, “Traditional landline telephone service is the most dependable communications tool currently available in rural communities and is vital to reliably accessing 9-1-1,” adding that “It is essential to retain affordable, safety net services especially in disaster-prone areas with fewer market options and comparable service quality that copper-based landline phone service provides.”

An AT&T spokesperson justified the company’s move to CNN, saying they have seen a “precipitous decline in demand for telephone services provided over our copper networks.” He stressed that the carrier is “not canceling landline service in California.”

The spokesperson stated that even if the CPUC approved the company’s request, none of the customers would lose access to voice service.

Customers in Trouble

Moving away from landlines could mean that many dependent customers in California may only have access to wireless services.

However, copper lines are more reliable than internet voice calling since the former continue to work during power outages. Moreover, seamless calling would be difficult if the internet service is unreliable.

Thousands of comments have been submitted to CPUC, with many warning against ending AT&T’s landline service, citing these issues.

“IF THE POWER IS OFF, NOBODY CAN USE THE INTERNET OR THEIR CELL PHONES! After the Loma Prieta earthquake, our Oakland neighborhood lost power for three days. However, our landline still worked, and we were able to call for assistance. So were our neighbors who did not have landlines,” said a comment from Tracy Blackstone.

Landlines “are crucial in an area like ours, where natural disasters are occurring with increasing frequency. Don’t let AT&T cripple us when disaster hits!!!”

Another individual, Jessica Richter from Los Gatos, said that her home is in the “heart” of Silicon Valley, but she still needs to use the landline as cell phone service is “terrible.”

“During the storm, I was able to communicate with my teenager who was at his Dad’s across town only because I have a landline run by Frontier and a phone that doesn’t need electricity,” she said.

“In the last five years, I have needed this landline many times due to storms, Power Safety Shut Offs, fire threats, and unexpected loss of power. Without a landline, I would have only unreliable cell phone service that MUST be used with Wifi calling. No Wifi = no phone service. It is unconscionable to think that the CPUC would even consider AT&T’s proposal to end landline service,” she added.

Meanwhile, AT&T also requests approval to give up its Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) designation. A carrier with an ETC designation receives financial assistance from the federal government to ensure high-quality and affordable telephone service to customers at all income levels.

Ending AT&T’s ETC designation could mean that customers would have to pay more for the services, the CUPC stated.

“For a household receiving federal Lifeline from AT&T, the bill could increase by $5.25 per month for voice-only service, or $9.25 per month for bundled or internet service. In addition to these amounts, a household on Tribal lands receiving federal Lifeline from AT&T could experience an additional $25 per month bill increase,” the commission added.

To approve AT&T’s ETC de-designation request, the carrier has to “demonstrate that another ETC provider can provide Universal support in the areas where AT&T wishes to surrender its ETC designation.”

The CPUC is holding four public forums in February and March to discuss de-designating the COLR and ETC status of AT&T. An administrative law judge has been assigned to the matter who will issue a proposed decision within a year that the commission will consider.

The Epoch Times reached out to AT&T for comment.


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