AT&T's request to end its landline obligations in California is drawing protests from residents as state officials consider letting AT&T off the hook.
AT&T filed a application AT&T will end its Carrier of Last Resort (COLR) obligation in March 2023. The first of several public hearings on the application is being held today by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which is reviewing AT&T's application. An evidentiary hearing was program for April, and a proposed decision is expected in September.
AT&T said it would not immediately cut off phone service, but ending the COLR requirement would make it easier for AT&T to abandon its phone lines later. AT&T's application said it would provide basic telephone service in all areas for at least six months and indefinitely in areas without alternative voice service.
“If the CPUC approves it, more than 580,000 affected AT&T customers would be left with fewer options in terms of choice, quality and affordability,” warns representatives from California's rural counties. “Alternative services, such as VoIP and wireless, have no obligation to serve any customer or provide equivalent services to AT&T landline customers, including no obligation to provide reliable access to AT&T landline discounts. 911 or Lifeline program.”
“Please don’t let them let us down!” »
Recent comments from residents have highlighted the importance of landlines for emergency services. Residents also described problems with wireless service that could serve as the sole replacement for copper networks in areas that AT&T has not deemed profitable enough for fiber optic lines.
“We live in a country with no cell service, so the landline we have is the only way to get help in an emergency,” one Moss Landing resident wrote today. “There are only 5 houses on our part of the line. I don't see any other companies volunteering to take over our service after hearing AT&T tell us over and over that we would be the last to fix things due to the few houses. Please don’t let them abandon us!”
THE role has received more than 2,100 comments in the past three weeks, and about 2,300 in total, that are overwhelmingly opposed to AT&T's plan. There are 600 other comments on a separate folder for an associated AT&T app.
Even some residents who have access to cable companies, which typically offer VoIP services, aren't ready to give up their old copper landlines.
“Cable Internet has become more reliable, but not so much that I'm willing to risk my vital telecommunications service on it,” one Hayward resident wrote yesterday. “I actually keep DSL service on my POTS [Plain Old Telephone Service] line as a backup to our cable Internet service… 911 emergency service on cell phones still does not work. The last time I tried to report a grass fire near a Cal State university, the dispatcher didn't know what city I was calling from.”
The carrier of last resort must provide service to anyone
AT&T recently filed an objection over how its opponents describe its phone service plans. An AT&T filing January 16 Disputed claims that low-income households could see their bills double and that “AT&T has declared its intention to shut down its telephone network.”
“AT&T California will continue to offer basic telephone service throughout its service area unless and until it separately obtains all necessary approvals to discontinue, so no customer will lose service if the Commission approves AT&T California's request,” AT&T said.
According to AT&T's request, the company must complete the Section 214 Withdrawal Process managed by the Federal Communications Commission to completely interrupt service in a given area.
CPUC said in a summary of the situation that “AT&T is the designated COLR in many areas of the state and is the largest COLR in California.” This means that “the company must provide traditional landline telephone service to any potential customer in that service territory.” AT&T is proposing to withdraw from COLR in your area without a new carrier being designated as COLR.”
“If AT&T's proposal were accepted as outlined in its application, then no COLR would be required to provide basic service in your area,” the state agency said. “This does not necessarily mean that no carrier would provide service in your area, just that they would not be required to do so. Other outcomes are possible, such as another carrier besides AT&T volunteering to become the COLR in your area., or the CPUC rejecting AT&T's proposal.”