California Landline Battle Could Bring Nationwide Relief For Your Bills

California Landline Battle Could Bring Nationwide Relief For Your Bills

AT&T is requesting that California utility regulators reject its request to be relieved of its obligation to offer traditional landline phone service.
(Photo : by Annie Spratt / Unsplash)

AT&T is requesting that California utility regulators reject its request to be relieved of its obligation to offer traditional landline phone service. A consumer advocate warned that may have ramifications for the entire country.

The utilities claim that the copper-wire infrastructure is outdated and costly to maintain, and that there is less demand for landline phone service as customers switch to mobile and other services. As a result, fewer telephone providers are providing basic landline phone service.

However, consumer advocates across the nation have protested, arguing that basic landline service is crucial for the most vulnerable citizens of the nation, such as elderly people who prefer not to rely on cell service, low-income consumers, and residents of rural areas who might not have good access to cell or broadband internet services.

What is the Situation in California?

The California Public Utilities Commission invited public feedback earlier this year over AT&T's request to forego its obligations as the so-called "Carrier of Last Resort" (COLR), which requires the utility to provide copper-wire landline service.

The utility and several other companies have been submitting petitions to state utility regulators and lawmakers, requesting to be released from their duties.

Thomas J. Glegola, the Administrative Law Judge, said in a ruling on Friday that the California commission reject AT&T's waiver. At its meeting on June 20, the commission will vote on the proposal. In addition, the judge suggested that the commission review the regulations defining the carrier of last resort service requirements.

The public reaction to AT&T's proposal, according to a news statement from the commission announcing the impending vote, "was extensive with over 5,000 public comments received into the record and eight Public Forums held in-person in three cities and virtually across the state, drawing more than 5,800 attendees."

In its statement, the commission stated that "as the designated COLR, AT&T plays a pivotal role in providing reliable telephone service to communities across the state." "Access to essential telecommunications services for all Californians," the agency added.

Although the communications firm claimed that alternative services including mobile wireless could cover the gap, the commission stated that "the CPUC found AT&T did not meet the requirements for COLR withdrawal." In particular, AT&T did not establish that alternative providers satisfied the COLR criteria or that there were substitute providers ready and prepared to act as COLR."

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Addressing Voice Service Reliability and Regulatory Challenges

The unreliability of voice alternatives, such as mobile service or Voice Over Internet Protocol services (VoIp), which are internet phone providers, was also brought up by public respondents, the commission stated.

The commission noted concerns about the reliability of voice alternatives, including mobile services and Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, as raised by public respondents.

Blakeman expressed disappointment with the CPUC's proposed dismissal of their application for relief from Carrier of Last Resort (COLR) regulation. He emphasized the need for the opportunity to demonstrate why the COLR obligation might be unnecessary due to the ample options for voice service available to customers.

Blakeman highlighted the lack of provider interest in bidding on the carrier of last resort service, attributing it to a declining customer base amidst competitive market options. He reiterated their commitment to maintaining customer connectivity to voice services and their ongoing efforts to collaborate with state leaders on modern communication policies for Californians.

In addition to successfully lobbying for legislative reform in 20 other states, AT&T made the request for a waiver in California. This removed the utility's obligation to offer traditional landline service.

According to Blakeman, AT&T's fiber network is more dependable "than our outdated copper network" during climate disasters, when staying connected is crucial. Older copper cables also take a lot longer to repair after weather events, sometimes taking weeks to dry out due to damage from prolonged rain and flooding.

Customers may still use their landlines in the absence of energy, according to consumer activists, who also point out that the majority of alternatives to traditional landlines require electricity.

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