California denies AT&T’s request to reduce OpEx by ripping out landline service to almost 600,000 households

In Featured News by Wireless Estimator

California denies removal of landline for AT&T

RIP AND REPLACE WITH A CELL PHONE? NO, SAYS CALIFORNIA’S CPUC. AT&T has provided residents with landline service contracts for almost 30 years and found maintenance has cut into their OpEx budget. The California Public Utilities Commission denied their request to terminate service as the Carrier of Last Resort since 1996, stating that their logic of severe financial strain didn’t make sense since they were spending $150 million on fiber projects.

Despite AT&T’s request to discontinue this less profitable service, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has made a significant ruling mandating that the carrier continue providing landline services in California. This decision will undoubtedly shape the company’s future operations in the state.

The CPUC’s decision ensures that AT&T remains a Carrier of Last Resort (COLR) in areas where it is the only provider. It maintains its obligation to offer telephone services, including landlines, to anyone who requests them. The carrier’s request would have affected almost 600,000 households.

This is crucial for ensuring access to emergency services and maintaining connectivity, especially in regions with unreliable alternative services such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or mobile networks.

AT&T had sought to relinquish its COLR obligations, arguing that many areas now have alternative communication services, including VoIP and mobile networks from providers like Verizon and T-Mobile. The company claimed that maintaining the landline infrastructure hindered its ability to invest in modern fiber optic networks.

However, the CPUC found these arguments unconvincing and noted that maintaining landlines does not prevent AT&T from upgrading its infrastructure. In fact, the CPUC highlighted that AT&T had recently invested over $150 million in fiber projects, undermining their claim of financial strain due to landline maintenance.

Public comments played a significant role in the CPUC’s decision. Many Californians, particularly in rural and remote areas, reported poor cellular service and emphasized the importance of landlines for reliable communication. For example, a member of the Native American Pomo tribe noted that cell service was available only about 30% of the time in certain areas. These testimonies underscored the necessity of landlines for consistent and emergency communication.

The CPUC’s decision also pointed out that AT&T’s proposal did not guarantee that another provider would assume the COLR role in the affected areas. The existing COLR rules, established in D.96-10-066 and reaffirmed in D.12-12-038, require the presence of another COLR before a current one can withdraw. Since no other provider volunteered to replace AT&T, the CPUC could not approve the application.

Additionally, the CPUC addressed AT&T’s argument about modernizing its network by retiring copper-based landline facilities. The commission clarified that AT&T is not restricted from retiring old infrastructure as long as it does not impact service. The ruling highlighted that AT&T’s ability to invest in new technologies, such as fiber, is not impeded by its COLR obligations.

The CPUC dismissed AT&T’s application to withdraw as a COLR with prejudice, meaning the company cannot file a similar application for at least a year.