California Public Utilities Commission denies AT&T’s request to remove landline service

California Public Utilities Commission denies AT&T’s request to remove landline service

AT&T is the only landline service provider in California, March 19, 2024. Courtesy of Ruth Dusseault/Bay City News Service.

At its meeting on Thursday, June 20, the California Public Utilities Commission voted to reject AT&T’s request to remove landline and other telephone services from certain areas of California, including much of San Mateo County.

“This is a victory for some of our county’s most vulnerable residents whose phones are their lifeline,” San Mateo County Supervisor Ray Mueller said in a news release.

AT&T filed a request in March 2023 to be relieved of its “carrier of last resort” obligation in certain areas of California. An operator of last resort is required to offer basic services, most commonly landline services, within a specific area.

AT&T is the designated provider of last resort in many areas of the state, including nearly all of San Mateo County. Its service area includes many of the most rural regions of California.

The telecommunications giant’s proposal argued that the mandate, which is a relic of an era before cellular service, would force it to maintain both an aging narrowband network and its modern wireless broadband and fiber network without the federal funds that used to receive during service provision in rural areas.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in March to oppose AT&T’s move. Supervisors cited the need for rural residents, as well as seniors and people with speech or hearing disabilities, to have free access to 911 and telephone relay service.

The resolution states: “For many vulnerable residents living in rural and semi-rural areas of San Mateo County, landline copper service provided by AT&T is the only reliable access to communications, particularly in emergency situations and during disaster events. natural hazards, such as storms. , forest fires and earthquakes.”

“There are residents in both rural and urban areas of San Mateo County who depend on that COLR service,” Mueller said at the CPUC meeting in San Luis Obispo. “Specifically in power outages in urban areas, people with functional and access needs who have to be able to call for help during local outages, and in rural areas where we have tremendous connectivity problems on the coast during power outages that sometimes last weeks” .

At the June 20 meeting, the CPUC ultimately voted unanimously to reject AT&T’s proposal, because there is no alternative service provider in many areas of the state.

In a news release, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Menlo Park, said, “the CPUC made the right decision to hold AT&T to its promise and obligation to provide phone service to our constituents in areas with unreliable cellular service. If the only option to provide this COLR service is over fixed copper lines, then AT&T must provide and maintain them. These lines of communication are lifelines for rural residents, especially during public emergencies such as fires, earthquakes, floods and landslides. “Cost savings should never take precedence over public safety.”

However, landlines in rural San Mateo County may not remain secure for long. Assembly Bill 2797, now before the state Assembly, would relax AT&T’s obligations as a carrier of last resort.

Under certain circumstances, AT&T, as well as any other service provider operating as an operator of last resort, may terminate its obligations without the consent of the CPUC.

AB 2797 will be heard before the Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee on July 2.

Mueller announced that he would bring a resolution to oppose AB 2797 to the Board of Supervisors at its meeting on Tuesday, June 25.

“On the eve of AT&T’s petition being denied at the CPUC, legislation to eliminate the CPUC’s regulatory authority was introduced in the state legislature, where AT&T has spent significant sums of money on campaign contributions over the past decade,” Mueller said in the press release. “I am hopeful that our local state legislators will reject AB 2797, as the health and safety of our county’s most vulnerable residents depend on the protections provided by the safeguards implemented by the CPUC to protect those who need access to COLR “.