AT&T can’t hang up on landline customers, California agency rules

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) yesterday rejected AT&T’s request to end its landline obligations. The state agency also urged AT&T to upgrade facilities from copper to fiber instead of trying to shut down outdated parts of its network.

AT&T asked the state to eliminate its Carrier of Last Resort (COLR) obligation, which requires it to provide landline service to any potential customer in its service territory. A CPUC administrative law judge recommended rejection of the request last month, and the commission voted to dismiss AT&T’s request with prejudice on Thursday.

“Our vote to dismiss AT&T’s application made clear that we will protect customers’ access to basic telephone service… Our rules were designed to provide that security, and AT&T’s application did not follow our rules,” said Commissioner John Reynolds in a CPUC announcement.

State rules require a replacement COLR to release AT&T from its obligations, and AT&T argued that VoIP and mobile services could fill that gap. But residents “highlighted the unreliability of voice alternatives” in public hearings, the CPUC said.

“Despite AT&T’s argument that providers of voice alternatives to landline service, such as VoIP or mobile wireless services, can fill the void, the CPUC found that AT&T did not meet the requirements for withdrawal from COLR,” the agency said. “Specifically, AT&T did not demonstrate the availability of substitute providers willing and able to serve as COLR, nor did AT&T demonstrate that the alternative providers met the definition of COLR.”

The administrative law judge’s proposed decision said AT&T falsely claimed that the commission’s rules require it to “retain outdated copper-based landline telephone facilities that are costly to maintain.” The agency emphasized that its rules do not prevent AT&T from upgrading to fiber.

“The COLR rules are technology neutral and do not distinguish between voice services offered…and do not prevent AT&T from removing copper facilities or investing in fiber or other facilities/technologies to improve its network,” the agency said yesterday.

AT&T seeks to change state law

In a statement provided to Ars, AT&T California President Marc Blakeman said the airline is focusing on pushing for changes to state laws.

“No customer will be left without voice and 911 services. We are focused on the legislation introduced in California, which includes important protections, safeguards and outreach for consumers and does not affect our customers in rural locations. We are fully committed to keeping our customers connected while We work with state leaders on policies that create a thoughtful transition that brings modern communications to all Californians,” Blakeman said.

AT&T said the legislation “builds on feedback we and lawmakers have received over the past year” and “addresses concerns raised during the community outreach process and establishes a clear path forward.”

The legislation pushed by AT&T “would create a way for AT&T to remain a COLR in rural regions, which the company estimates at around 100,000 customers, while being freed from COLR obligations everywhere,” a Bay City News article said.

The Marin County Board of Supervisors opposed the bill, saying it would “simply achieve the same objectives as AT&T’s request to the CPUC for relief from its carrier of last resort obligations,” which would have “negative effects.” significant… [on] more than 580,000 customers in California who rely on simple telephone service (POTS) under AT&T’s COLR obligations.”

The CPUC is separately moving forward with a new rulemaking process that could result in changes to the COLR rules. The rulemaking says the commission believes “that COLR construction remains necessary, at least for certain individuals or communities in California,” but is seeking public comment on possible changes.

The rulemaking asks whether the commission should relax COLR requirements, for example, by stating that certain regions may no longer require a carrier of last resort. It also seeks comment on whether wireless and VoIP providers should be designated as operators of last resort.

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